Phillies Calling Up Nick Williams
In addition to just being bad, the Phillies have been unlucky this year. Due to uncertainty over the CBA, they protected 11 players from the Rule 5 draft. This move severely depleted the Phillies fungible call up depth, as well as giving them almost no flexibility in making call ups over the course of the season. Injuries to Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, and Cesar Hernandez along with ineffective performances from Michael Saunders, Jeanmar Gomez, Joely Rodrguez, and Edubray Ramos have already stretched the roster to it’s breaking limits. When you add in injuries to Zach Eflin and Jesmuel Valentin, and a PED suspension for Elniery Garcia the Phillies are out of warm bodies to throw in front of promoting prospects. So when the Phillies were forced to send Hwie Kendrick to the DL for the second time, they had no choice but finally turn to one of their big time prospects and call up outfielder Nick Williams.
Williams isn’t just a random call up. After 9 months and 203 games in AAA, Williams has shown that he deserves to be in the major leagues. His season stat line of .280/.328/.511 hides a poor walk rate and an astronomical strikeout rate, hallmarks of all of his bad traits. However, Williams is finishing up a June with a much improved walk rate and a continuation of the power he showed in a hot homer stretch in May. Overall this month, Williams is hitting .282/.351/.524 with 6 walks in his last 6 games.
There are not many things to complain about Nick Williams from a physical tools perspective. He has plus speed, will flash an above average to plus arm, and is a good defender in the outfield. It is that last thing that should help the Phillies the most, even if Williams doesn’t hit immediately. He can play all three outfield positions, but is best in a corner. He doesn’t always run perfect routes, but he is a high energy defender who will make diving catches and has robbed a couple of home runs this year. He is not on the level of Herrera or Altherr, but he should a long term plus defender in a corner.
At the plate, Williams’ swing can get a bit handsy, but he has extremely strong wrists that generate plus bat speed and plus or better raw power and they allow him to make up for some amount of mistakes. Other times his swing can get a bit long as he unfurls a bit like a trebuchet, when he times up a ball like this he can hit absolute moonshots. He is at his best somewhere in the middle where he can use his full body and quick wrists to take the ball out to all fields. Williams’ swing as a whole is not like many I have seen. It is not the pure violent lightening of a Chase Utley, or the easy power of his teammate Dylan Cozens, or even the fluid ease of Rhys Hoskins or Scott Kingery, instead Nick’s swing is arrogant, almost as if he is swatting away some sort of annoying bug. If he can swing at the right pitches, he has 30+ home run a year potential.
This brings us to the biggest knock on Williams, his instincts for the game. He has finally become a good defender, but despite his plus speed he continues to be a horrible base stealer. Then there is his approach at the plate, which has literally been swing first, ask questions later for long periods of time. Much like Maikel Franco, Nick Williams does not need to swing hard to generate power, but sometimes he goes up to the plate determined to hit everything out of the ballpark. It can be hard to tell if his pitch recognition is bad because he can’t see them or that his body is so geared up to swing that he gives himself no chance to observe the pitch. Whatever the reason, it has been the biggest improvement for Williams over the course of the season. Over the past month, Williams has had more targeted aggression at the plate. He is never going to be a patient hitter like a J.P. Crawford who is content to take some strikes and work a pitcher, but he is laying off more pitches out of the strike zone. The consequence has been more walks, but also better hitting counts (and some bad strike 3s looking).
In general, many of Williams’ problems are mental. He admitted that he pressed last year trying to reach the majors and it contributed to a horrible end to his year. He is not always consistent at the plate, and even after making a ton of improvements he still gives some at bats away. He is also only 23 years old and supremely talented, not everyone is major league ready at 20 or 21, in fact very few are.
As for how Williams’ fits for the Phillies, he fills a very obvious need if the Phillies want to commit to him. Right now they are running out Cam Perkins and Daniel Nava in left field. Perkins has been horrible in his 30 MLB plate appearances and Daniel Nava is a bad fielder who is going to give a good at bat, but is being exposed as he is asked to play more. Williams still has some struggles with left handed pitching (currently hitting .250/.294/.375 off of them) so the Phillies could still work in Perkins against some lefties and when they want to give Altherr or Herrera a day off. Alternatively, the Phillies could decide they don’t actually want Williams up in the majors right now and send him back down on July 4 when Jerad Eickhoff comes back, opting to go with a 4 man bench and bump Mark Leiter to the bullpen. Either way, Nava/Perkins is not the long term answer in LF, and even when Cesar Hernandez comes back it makes sense that the Phillies will want to trade Howie Kendrick. The circumstances are aligned for the Phillies to turn a job over to Williams, but only time will tell if they will.