NL Midseason Debuts: Prospects Looking to Make an Impact – #5 Nick Williams

With 25-man rosters set, each team goes into the season looking to compete immediately with the pickups they made in the offseason. But as we saw around the MLB in the 2015, the midseason callups can have as big of an impact as the players obtained in free agency. This series will detail the 5 prospects in the NL looking to make the biggest impact on their respective teams this season.

For the purposes of this series, we will set a few baseline criteria:

  1. The prospect cannot have any previous Major League experience.
  2. The prospect must already be reasonably close to the MLB.
  3. The prospect must play a position of need for his big-league squad, and this need cannot be due to injury.

With this in mind, let us proceed.

5. Nick Williams, PHI, OF

The Phillies made a living fleecing the Texas Rangers for outfielders in 2015. Before the season began, the Phillies made arguably one of the best Rule 5 Draft picks ever, picking up Odubel Herrera, who the Rangers left off their 40-man roster. Herrera stayed with the team the whole season, amassing 3.8 bWAR and asserting himself as part of the Phillies outfield of the future.

Then, at the trading deadline the Phillies unloaded the expensive
Cole Hamels contract to the Rangers who were making a playoff push. The Phillies got 5 prospects in return, among them Nick Williams. Williams is a young (age 22 season in 2016) outfielder who quickly ascended through the Rangers minor league system hitting for average (~.300 at each level) and power (.491 SLG in 515 PA in AA between the Rangers and Phillies systems). Williams’ advanced stats support this development path, with a wOBA in the .370 range, wRC+ consistently around 130, and an absurdly high (>.340) BABIP. While the high BABIP would normally be considered unsustainable, MLB.com documents his tremendous bat speed and ability to drive the ball. This indicates a high line-drive percentage allowing his BABIP to remain high. Their scouting grades give him above-average hit tool, slightly above average power and running, and average fielding and arm strength, placing him #63 overall of rookie-eligible prospects.

This is in stark contrast to the remainder of the Phillies outfield options after Herrera. Currently, the Phillies are starting some combination of Tyler GoeddelPeter Bourjos, and Cedric Hunter. Bourjos is the only one with a significant major-league track record, with Goeddel as a Rule 5 Draft pick himself and Hunter’s last appearance in the majors in 2011 with the Padres.

Goeddel has a track record of a slightly above-average bat and plate discipline (wOBA of 0.362 and wRC+ of 122 in AA with the Rays in 2015). But making the jump from AA to the majors is tough, and just because Herrera was able to do it last season with great success does not mean that Goeddel will be able to easily repeat it. The Phillies are in the position, as a non-contender, to take chances on players like Herrera and Goeddel. Even though there is a slim chance that a Rule 5 Draft pick works out, they can afford to give a player with a promising profile playing time in lieu of signing a pricier veteran, whose results are predictable. The key is balancing playing time and the ability to develop the player; should Goeddel struggle mightily, playing him more or less can help or hurt his situation, but it is up to the Phillies to decide. Another key aspect of the Rule 5 Draft pick is that they should not sacrifice the ability to call up prospects like Williams, who may also have a legitimate claim to playing time. It will be interesting to see how the Phillies manage this balance.

Continuing, Hunter is an uninspiring option for Phillies fans, with a history of up-and-down results in the minors. After earning a cup of coffee with the Padres in 2011, he has bounced back and forth between AA and AAA for a few teams, most recently posting a .343 wOBA and 118 wRC+ in AAA for the Braves. While this is a serviceable line for a prospect to have, the fact that the 28 year-old Hunter has not been able to stick with a team or earn another shot at the majors says that he may be destined for AAAA player status. As a lefty, he possesses a large platoon-split, performing much better against righties and indicates he will probably not be an everyday player for the Phillies.

Lastly, Bourjos (the known entity of the group) is widely regarded for his superb defense but mediocre bat. However, with a hip injury in 2015 it seemed that even his defensive ability was fading, registering -10 defensive runs saved above average. This was down from his 2014 figure of 13, and even higher numbers earlier in his career. Fangraphs projects Bourjos to produce a wOBA of .286 and wRC+ of 77, numbers that register far below average, and almost near replacement-level.

Walk-Off Hit: Nick Williams 2016 Impact Outlook

If Williams is able to get off to a good start and maintain his bat speed at AAA Lehigh Valley, he could easily force his way into the Phillies everyday lineup. Any number of things, including a poor showing/return to Tampa of Goeddel, permanently weaker defense from Bourjos, or another down year for Hunter, could inspire the Phillies to call upon Williams. While Williams is expected to grow into his power, his bat has the ability to play now, and he has made strides in his defensive ability and patience at the plate. With Philadelphia’s current ho-hum options to play, it is not hard to picture him in the Phillies outfield of the future along with Herrera, starting as soon as May or June of the 2016 season.

What do you think? Will Nick Williams be able to continue his success and leverage it into a promotion to the Phillies? Or will Philadelphia take the slow path to his development, and allow him to get a full season of work in at AAA? What other prospects do you think belong on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @SaberBallBlog. Don’t forget to subscribe to SaberBallBlog by clicking the green “Follow” button in the menu, and follow on Twitter for all of the latest updates on the MLB!

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