Nick Williams entered last season with high expectations after taking steps forward in 2015 with his walk rate and cutting back on his strikeouts. Unfortunately, he was unable to build on those improvements at Triple-A last season. Williams saw his walk rate drop from 7.7 percent to 3.6 percent and his strikeout rate balloon from 18.6 percent to 25.8 percent in 2016. Despite those issues, he entered the month of August with a respectable slash line and looked like a lock for a September callup, but then went into a deep funk, hitting just .179/.196/.316 with two homers and 36 strikeouts in 24 games. Two benchings earlier in the year for lack of hustle did not factor into the evaluation for a promotion as Williams' manager at Triple-A indicated he had learned from those mistakes. There is a lot of risk in his profile, but Williams still has plenty of upside thanks to his plus bat speed. He will compete for a roster spot this spring, but may be sent back to Triple-A to begin 2017 as the final step of his development as a prospect.
Williams went 3-for-3 with his first home run of the season Saturday for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Williams is off to an OK start, hitting .265/.297/.412 with two doubles, the homer and two stolen bases. The biggest issue remains his lack of plate discipline. He has struck out 12 times in 10 games with just one walk. He walked just 19 times and struck out 136 times in 125 games last season. Williams is still just 23 years old and has time to figure things out, but it would be nice to see him start reining in his free-swinging ways a bit.
Williams was optioned to minor league camp Friday. The Phillies' No. 5 prospect, per RotoWire's rankings, needs a little more time at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he hit 13 home runs and drove in 64 runs last year but also was saddled with a .258/.287/.427 line. Williams had no struggles in his first full Double-A campaign last year (split between the Rangers' Frisco and the Phillies' Reading affiliates), totaling 17 taters, 55 RBI and 13 steals with a .303/.354/.491 line over 515 plate appearances. At his peak in the majors, Williams could offer a similarly diverse stat line.
Williams has worked with hitting coach Matt Stairs this spring on altering his mechanics at the plate, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com reports. "We've changed his approach completely," Stairs said. "He had no idea about the strike zone. His front side is soft now. He doesn't stride so hard. He knows how to use his lower half. He was never taught how to use his lower half or his hands. Now he does." Williams, 23, hit .258/.287/.427 with 13 home runs, 136 strikeouts and 19 walks in 527 plate appearances at Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season. He was hitting .290 with a .790 OPS through the end of July, but hit just .161 with a .478 OPS over the rest of the season. Williams' struggles led to a drop in his status as a prospect, but he is still the same physically gifted player that was on every top 100 prospect list last year. If this new swing helps him produce at the plate, he'll force his way to the majors by midseason.
Williams was added to Philadelphia's 40-man roster Friday. Williams' batting average wasn't as good as some hoped last season, but the 13 home runs and career-high 33 doubles with Triple-A Lehigh Valley were enough to get the top prospect a 40-man roster spot this offseason. Given the Phillies' rebuilding status, he could very well push for a spot on the major league roster if he continues to improve against upper-level pitching.
The chances of Williams earning a September call-up look "iffy," according to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philadelphia. Williams was considered a lock for a September promotion earlier this year, but his recent struggles may have hurt his chances of earning a look. He hit just .179/.196/.316 with two home runs and 36 strikeouts in 24 games last month for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. With limited at-bats available in the majors, the Phillies may just have Williams finish out the year in the minors and give him a shot at earning a job next spring.