At first glance, Ryan Williams does not appear to have the body of a baseball player. He looks more like a lumberjack called in from the pen. At 6’4” and 220 lbs., the California native strikes quite an impression on the mound this year for the South Bend Cubs. However, in the 60 feet and 6 inches it takes for the ball to travel from the pitching mound, Williams is magically converted into a tenacious pitcher.
Williams was drafted by the Cubs in the 10th round out of East Carolina. His teammate, Jeff Hoffman, was in consideration to be the number one pick in 2014 until TJS took away his season. As a result of Hoffman’s high profile, Williams got a lot of looks from scouts in his senior year and earned third team All-America honors as the ace for the team once Hoffman went down. He led his team in wins, strikeouts, saves, and ERA. His senior season saw Williams pitch 99 and 2/3 innings with an era of 1.81 and only 11 walks.
Williams was highly thought of by the coaching staff. He wore 23, the number of the former East Carolina manager Keith LeClair who left the job due to ALS. That number is bestowed upon the Pirate who best exemplifies LeClair’s fighting spirit.
Williams wasted little time getting started last summer as a Cub after being drafted. After two games in relief at Arizona, he went to Boise where he pitched 24 and 2/3 innings over 9 games, striking out 26 and compiling an ERA of 1.46. There were some bloggers who gave Williams little chance to succeed, though that was due less to his repertoire and more to his age.
At 23, Williams is year older than average Midwest League Player. Regardless, it’s the stuff that that stands out, and that plays at any age. Williams has started five games and had a 0.85 before Saturday night. In 31 innings, he has struck out 25 with a WHIP of 0.75 and a batting average against of .195.
The best way to describe Williams’ approach to pitching is this: he has a closer’s mind in a starter’s body. That’s him in a nutshell. He attacks, attacks, and attacks the zone with his three pitches. He commands a slider on a 10-2 plane that comes in around 78-80. He can throw his fastball in the low 90s, usually 90-92, and his 12-6 curveball comes in around 82-84 and is devastating to hit – usually a weak ground ball is the best someone can do.
“I’m more of a locations guy. I try to put as much movement on the ball as possible. My job is to make (hitters) swing and make the mistake and let my defense work for me.”
It is not uncommon for him to throw a 6- or 7-pitch inning with the ball constantly in the strike zone. Fielders have to love playing behind him as he works quickly.
Williams begins with a high leg kick. He then adds a little loop in his delivery going back that might add a little deception, but I am sure that loop might need to get cleaned up later to relieve any stress on his shoulder as his development continues. He is not perfect, as he sometimes leaves the ball up or hangs a breaker/slider and that is when he gets hit.
From the stretch, he uses a lot shorter leg kick and shortens up his delivery; as a result, his stuff suffers a little. One thing you need to understand to get Williams’ dominance this year is that he gets a lot of ground balls. Heading into Saturday’s game, he had 37 groundouts on the year with only 10 fly-ball outs; that’s an outstanding ratio.
Against Great Lakes on Saturday, Williams was given a three-run lead before he took the mound. By the end of the third it was 9-0. At the end of 4 innings, he had only thrown 43 pitches. He spent those innings just throwing strike after strike and only gave up two hits through four.
Williams fell into some trouble in the fifth after a throwing error by 3B David Bote. He ended up surrendering three unearned runs that inning. In the sixth, he struck out victims 6 and 7 before hitting his second batter, giving up a hit, and then getting only the third fly-out of the game against eight ground-outs. His ERA dropped to 0.72.
It should be fun watching Williams all summer as he attacks the zone with his closer’s approach.