Are Phillies' Prospects Struggles A Long-Term Concern?
Nick Williams (Photo by Carl Kline)
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Q: What’s your take on J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams? The top Phillies' position prospects had uneven seasons.
Matt Veasey @MatthewVeasey
BA: It is true that both struggled. Crawford hit .250/.349/.339 between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Williams hit .258/.287/.427 for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Neither’s season is what would be expected from Top 100 Prospects. Crawford, 21, is one of the best shortstop prospects in the minors, while Williams ranks in the second tier of outfield prospects.
That said, I see Crawford’s season as much more promising than Williams. Mechanically at the plate, scouts say Crawford has taken a step back in the past year. He has struggled to keep his weight back as he’s too often been caught on his front foot, leading to too many balls hit lightly to the opposite field and way too many easy pop-ups. Crawford’s .284 BABIP at Triple-A is less an indicator of bad luck and more a sign of how he is not consistently driving the ball. He’s posted a sub-.300 BABIP in each of his past three stops. But the hands still work well and his plate discipline gives him a chance to be an offensive contributor, even if he never gets to the fringe-average power potential scouts have long seen.
With some mechanical adjustments, Crawford could be much better than he’s shown so far, but even if he’s not, he’s a shortstop who can get on base, which is a valuable skill. Crawford has a chance to be an all-star if he starts driving the ball consistently. But even if he doesn’t, his present skill set makes him a future big league regular.
Williams’ concerns are more profound. Throughout his career he has struggled with over-aggressiveness. Some of this comes from his strengths. His hands are among the best in the minors. Scouts have long praised his bat speed and the looseness of his swing.
But that has often gotten him into bad habits as Williams swings at most everything. Williams, 23, showed some improvement in his plate discipline last year at Double-A before his trade to the Phillies, but in his now year and a month with the Phillies, he’s regressed to the same swing-and-miss ways he’d shown before last year. This year Williams walked 3.6 percent of the time and struck out in 25.8 percent of plate appearances. There was no one in the majors either this year or last year with 400 plate appearances who walked so little and struck out so much.
Williams can’t get to his power potential if he doesn’t develop improved selectivity. And while he seems to have the foot speed to play center field, he’s never shown the reads, routes and feel for center to play there more than sporadically.
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The Phillies will be closely watching the 20-year-old center fielder to see how he progresses in his first stint at a full-season level.
Williams still has the tools to be an everyday regular outfielder, but he still has significant strides he has to make and is significantly riskier than most prospects who have already reached Triple-A.