Per Reader Request, a Prospect Retro for Matt Williams
Matt Williams was drafted in the first round in 1986, third overall, out of UNLV. A power-hitting shortstop, Williams was expected to advance quickly, though there was some concern about his ability to make contact at higher levels. Assigned to Clinton in the Midwest League after the draft, he hit just .240/.310/.404 in 68 games. He hit 7 homers, but in general he didn't hit as well as expected, granted the first 68 games of someone's pro career are not always very predictive. Given his draft position, I would probably have rated him a Grade B+, but given his struggles at Clinton I don't think I would have gone with A-.
Williams began 1987 in the Giants lineup as the starting shortstop. This was a huge jump, and it did not go well: he hit just .188/.240/.339 in 84 games for the Giants, and ended up spending much of the season at Triple-A Phoenix, where he hit just .289 (not impressive for the Pacific Coast League in 1987). Williams had impressive raw power and a strong arm, but poor strike zone judgment kept him from doing well against major league pitching. His defense was promising but erratic.
1988 was another split season between Phoenix and San Francisco, and again he struggled badly against major league pitching, hitting just .205 with a horrible 8/41 BB/K mark in 156 at-bats. The consensus at the time was that Williams had been rushed, and it was an open question whether or not he would be able to adjust. He improved enough to hit 18 homers in 89 games for the Giants in 1989, but with a .202 batting average and a horrid .242 on-base percentage.
Everything turned around in 1990, when Williams hit .277 with 33 homers and 122 RBI. His strike zone judgment remained weak and was never a major asset, but he was able to build a fine career on hitting home runs and playing good defense at third base. In retrospect, even with his eventual success, it seems clear that the Giants mishandled him and that he could definitely have used additional time in the minors to hone his approach at the plate. Williams was able to overcome this, becoming a five-time All Star and multiple Gold Glove winner. Lucky or talented? Probably both.
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