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Viva El Birdos 2017 Cardinals Top Prospects: #10 Ronnie Williams

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Young groundballer still improving

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals-Workouts Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: the red baron has once again written up a very large number of prospects, done a great job on them, and combined them in just a few posts. You can read those posts, including a dozen reports on players who just missed the list by going here. This post contains a write-up of just a single prospect in a perhaps easier to digest form.-CE

#10: Ronnie Williams, RHP

6’0”, 170 lbs; R/R; 6 January 1996

Relevant Stats: 3.7% BB (State College), 23.1% K (Peoria), 1.32 GB/FB (Overall)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I’ve long been the high man on Ronnie Williams, and I remain so after this most recent season. In fact, I feel at least somewhat vindicated by some of the things Williams showed in his two-stop season this past year, even if he didn’t always put all those good things together at the same time.

Beginning the season at State College, Williams posted a ridiculously low walk rate and a very high groundball rate, attacking the zone mercilessly against New York Penn League batters with his sinking fastball. He didn’t strike out a huge number of hitters, unfortunately; his 17.6% whiff rate for the Spikes really isn’t anything to write home about. But the ability to control the zone and force hitters to swing was notable, and noted.

After 46.1 innings at State College, Williams was promoted up the ladder to Peoria. It was his first full-season ball assignment, and it was a bit of a relief to me. It’s not the end of the world for a raw high school pitcher to spend three full years kicking around short-season ball, but it’s not exactly what you want to see, either.

And a funny thing happened once Ronnie got to Peoria. I watched his Peoria starts, thanks to the magic of MiLB.tv, and he seemed to be throwing far more offspeed pitches than I expected. The curveball looked much better than it had in the past. The changeup was already good before, but it was even better. And Williams started striking out lots of Midwest League hitters.

He struck out nearly a quarter of the batters he faced as a Peoria Chief, in fact, which combined with that sub-4% walk rate would have put him among some elite company in the minor leagues. The only problem with that? He didn’t put up a sub-4% walk rate in Peoria.

In fact, he piled up walks almost as fast as he piled up strikeouts. He handed out free passes to nearly 11% of the hitters he faced in Peoria, a number much closer to his rather disappointing 2015 performance than the ultra-controlled new Ronnie Williams that had shown up in State College to start off 2016. He was also prone to giving up home runs in Peoria, though it was a run of such short duration that I’d really prefer not to read too much into it.

Overall, what we have in Ronnie Williams, the 2016 version, is a pitcher who seemingly dialed in his fastball command in State College, then expanded his repertoire once he got to Peoria. I would hazard a guess the organisation pushed him to throw more offspeed stuff in Low A, leading to both higher strikeout totals and also more walks, but I have no official confirmation on that. But what we saw from Williams this past season was the ingredients of a number 2⁄3 starter in the big leagues. We just didn’t see all those ingredients come together at once.

I remain extremely optimistic about Williams, due to his tremendous athleticism and what is probably my favourite delivery of any pitcher in the Cards’ minor league system. He has premium arm speed, and works his fastball from 92-95 routinely. He can take a little off and sink the fastball at 90-92, and I saw a few cutters this year as well. They weren’t good, necessarily, but they were recognisable, so that’s something.

The changeup is still his best offspeed pitch, and he sells it with good arm speed. The pitch has that split-finger downward action that gets an above-average number of swings and misses, and it seems equally effective against both right- and left-handed hitters. The curve is tighter now, and has better shape, though it still needs refinement. When he stays on top of the pitch and really pulls down as he extends out in front of the mound, it grades out as a 55-60 offering. When he doesn’t, it lollipops up there and probably gets a 40.

The fastball is an easy plus for me, and the change could pull a 60 in the future. If the curve continues to come along, Williams has the potential for three 55 or better pitches, and the kind the of athleticism I think bodes very well for his future strike-throwing abilities. I’m still on an island a little bit with my love for Ronnie Williams, but I’m pretty sure I can see the sails of ships making their way toward my island now.

Player Comp: I’ve said Kip Wells before, and I’ll say Kip Wells again. And yes, I mean that as a compliment.

via FanGraphs: