This afternoon the Tampa Bay Rays promoted outfield prospect Justin Williams to the major league roster. This seems like a good time to review him.
Justin Williams was originally drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second round in 2013 from high school in Houma, Louisiana. He hit well in the AZ system including .351 in his pro debut (208 at-bats) and .351 again in 2014 (291 at-bats between the Pioneer and Midwest Leagues). He came over to the Rays in the November 2014 Jeremy Hellickson deal.
Williams ranked 11th on the pre-season Tampa Bay Rays Top 20 prospects list with this comment:
11) Justin Williams, OF, Grade B-: Age 22, second round pick by the Diamondbacks in 2013, traded to Rays in Jeremy Hellickson deal in 2014; hit .301/.364/.489 with 14 homers, 37 walks, 69 strikeouts in 366 at-bats in Double-A; stands out if you see him in person with obvious left-side strength and bat speed; has made strides tapping his natural power while improving plate discipline; lacks speed for center field but arm works well in right; ETA 2019.
Moved up to Triple-A for 2018, Williams stands at .267/.323/.392 in 329 at-bats for the Durham Bulls before today’s promotion, hitting eight homers, drawing 24 walks against 75 strikeouts in 329 at-bats.
My basic take on Williams hasn’t changed. If you see him in person, his raw power, size, and general athletic strength are obvious and impressive. However, his style on the field doesn’t quite match the physical tools: he is still more of a line drive hitter who whacks the ball around the gaps rather than over the fences.
He showed glimmers of more power in ‘17 but that’s tailed off in Triple-A, his isolated power dropping from .189 last season to .125 this year. He generally makes contact but likes to swing the bat and doesn’t draw large numbers of free passes. That makes his OBP highly dependent on his batting average, which is one thing if you’re hitting .300 but another if you’re hitting .260.
Ultimately the question regarding Williams hasn’t changed: how much home run power will he develop? He’s still just 22. I’ve been optimistic over the years but that may be impressionable holdover from watching him crush some balls in the Midwest League back in 2015.
What do you think?