Acquired: Draft - 2014, 2nd Round (#68), American Senior High School, Hialeah, FL
Birthday: January 6, 1996
2014: Gulf Coast Cardinals (R)
(You can find the 20/80 grading primer here)
In my heart of hearts, I'd rank Ronnie Williams right outside the top ten in the organization based solely on raw ability as he's one of the more talented pitchers the Cardinals have in the minors. Thing is, I've been burned by the raw talents before (see Stock, Robert): Guys who look great to amateur scouts, post great values at the scouting combines, but then can't make the transition up to pro ball. So I'm grading Williams a bit conservatively here as I've only seen him on quality video in a high school game and scouting reports are hard to find given that he's 19 years old and has thrown just 36 innings in the pros.
That said, watch the two guys holding the radar guns look at each other after the first pitch from Williams in this video:
I don't know if those radar guns are legit and calibrated, but that's some serious heat, especially the 94 mph ball thrown in the lower half of the zone. Most of the scouting reports I've read have him sitting in the 92-93 zone and touching 95 on occasion, so I could see 96 in short stretches -- but he's not the second coming of Carlos Martinez, even if his delivery reminds me a bit of El Gallo. Williams just doesn't throw that hard. The bigger issue might be lack of life, as his fastball doesn't move much other than a bit of cut towards the glove side. Developing a good cutter is likely on the horizon and that, coupled with his solid secondary offerings, is likely why the Cardinals drafted him.
Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold caught Williams on video in August, but the quality really isn't good enough to pick up anything of substance, other than the fact that the hitter found it awfully hard to square the ball up against him.
Here's the best look I've had at Williams' mechanics as well as a good view of his curveball:
That's a fast arm folks. The mechanics are pretty close to textbook coming from a 3/4ish arm slot, even as he spins off the side of the mound at times to finish. That's something he'll likely have to clean up as he moves up in the minors in order to field his position adequately, but given that he's not overly reliant on a big fastball it's not something that should hinder his progress. Williams has a bit of a delayed rotation already, which is something the Cardinals teach (it was a big part of Lance Lynn's velocity boost when he joined the organization) so don't expect a big jump in fastball juice at any point in the future due to Cardinal Way magic -- Williams is likely a 92-93 mph guy as a starter, maybe getting to 94-95 with max effort out of the bullpen, but given his secondary stuff, that should more than enough if he can learn a cutter.
Williams' curveball has good depth, but like a lot of young pitchers with "Bugs Bunny" style curves, he has trouble commanding it. It certainly has the ability to become a plus pitch for him and even flashes plus at times already. In a farm stocked with great breaking balls at the moment, this one doesn't necessarily stand out, but it certainly has great potential if he can refine it and start throwing it where he wants.
Scouts are more impressed with his changeup, already a plus offering, potentially plus-plus by some reports. I've not seen it on video, but here's one description from a scout at Perfect Game:
Nice change up with good arm speed, flashes plus life at times.
The arm speed is key: Williams has a fast arm and a good fastball, so if he can keep that same arm speed with a changeup grip and command it well, that's a huge win already for a young pitcher.
It's so hard to tell what the Cardinals will do given their track record. Given that Williams is a bit more of a raw, toolsy pitcher I'd anticipate him starting at Johnson City or State College and maybe getting a taste of A ball in August if he's successful in the short season. I think most of his progress this year will depend on the number of innings the organization feels comfortable with him throwing: Both Rob Kaminsky and Alex Reyes threw right around 100 innings in their second year of pro ball, at the same age Williams will be for the upcoming season, and both pitched in A ball rather than a short season league. Depending on what Williams shows this spring, he might be in line for a similar type promotion, along with another fellow 2014 draftee that we'll get to later this month.
Right now, Williams is all upside, but there's plenty of potential to be realized here and his tools fit really well with the Cardinals development track record.