Nick Williams might have been easy to overlook among the wealth of power, athleticism, and incredible nicknames that populated the Hickory Crawdads in 2013, but his talents should propel him to headlines in 2014.
The Rangers selected Williams out of Galveston (Ball HS) in the second round of the 2012 draft, and he joined the rather impressive group that played with the Arizona Rookie League team that summer. Though he only hit two homers, a miniscule number compared to Joey Gallo's 18 (plus four more with Spokane that same season), Williams averaged .313/.375/.448 in 48 games. With the low-A Hickory Crawdads in 2013, Williams hit .293/.337/.543 in 95 games, the highest batting average among players with 150 or more plate appearances. He hit 17 homers - again, a small change compared to Gallo, but a huge leap in power for the 19-year-old.
Williams has one of the best 'hit tools' in the Rangers organization. His quick hands and balanced swing let him drive pitches to all parts of the park, and his developing power, demonstrated by his 17 Hickory home runs (in just 95 games), means that he could find the seats almost everywhere in fair territory. His hitting is more developed than any of his teammates, and the capability to square up almost any pitch near the zone contributed to his team-leading average, though consistency is still lacking in this area. This level of talent in a player who will be 20 this year is a major advantage, because it's far easier to develop an inherent facility for hitting rather than implant one entirely. With this ability, Williams can focus more on developing the less vital parts of his game--his defense and baserunning--while staying ahead of his peers at the plate.
A worrying trend in Williams' hitting, however, is his abnormally high K:BB ratio*. On a team known for striking out and not walking, Williams was the worst in this category, striking out around 7 times more than he walked (110 K: 15 BB). Though this lack of patience is frustrating, it's encouraging that the strikeouts are not coming from swings on terrible pitches, just pitches that Williams knows he could possibly hit, and misses. As Williams grows more experienced, one would hope that he develops a better eye at the plate, and passes over some of the pitches that he could theoretically hit, allowing them to turn into balls, rather than strikes.
He does need to work on his fielding and baserunning, but he has the talent to improve there. Though some consider him a barely-average fielder, his speed and improving instincts mean that he shouldn't be expected to be a drag in the field. He spent most of 2012 and 2013 in left field, but he has the capability and quickness for centerfield and may see more time there with Myrtle Beach in 2014. Though he has above-average speed, he's not a major stealing threat. To his credit, he doesn't attempt to steal bases that he knows he can't - taking eight of 13 attempts last season - but he could add to his value with improvements in that area. His speed does show in his South Atlantic League-leading 12 triples, and those aren't likely to disappear entirely as his body matures.
In this upcoming season, Williams should continue to mature physically into his promising frame, and if he can continue to hit at his talent level, the already promising power numbers will climb further. He'll see more advanced pitch sequences, as well as a general higher level of pitching ability, which will force him to either become more selective with his swinging or let his current eagerness to swing become his downfall as a prospect.
Williams most likely won't see major league time until 2016, but if he does break through with the Rangers, his bat will play very well in the friendly confines of Globe Life Park. If he can put together the power and the ability to hit, he could become a star. Though right now his main talent is hitting, there are far worse things to be good at.
*For a more in-depth look at Nick Williams' K:BB ratio, see 'Nick Williams' Big Bat Overshadows K/BB Issues' by Nathaniel Stoltz.
Kate Morrison is a recent Baylor graduate currently working as a freelance writer. She likes minor league ballparks, music and the nickname 'Roogie.' That last one will be explained in due time. You can follow her on Twitter at @unlikelyfanatic.