Mariners prospect's 'tunnel' vision paying dividends

May 24th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SEATTLE -- was an under-the-radar Draft pick for the Mariners in their loaded 2023 class. But as he nears the one-year anniversary of hearing his name called in the second round last July, he’s been anything but.

Seattle’s No. 15 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Williamson was promoted last Wednesday to Double-A Arkansas after a stellar start at High-A Everett -- where he hit .315/.408/.459 (.867 OPS) with one homer, one triple, 11 doubles and 21 RBIs to go with a 16.2% strikeout rate and 11.5% walk rate in 29 games.

“Just really working out plans to attack pitchers with,” Williamson said. “Before at-bats, finding a tunnel and then tunneling those pitches. Say if it was a sinker guy, I would tunnel him away, and if it started anywhere other than away, I knew that if it was a fastball, it would be a ball. So that helped me get on time for the fastball. From there, I’d trust myself to adjust to any offspeed pitches.”

Williamson spent four years at William & Mary University with a similar approach, but working closely with Everett hitting coach Seth Mejias-Brean helped him create an even more detailed plan.

“I had done it before, but just didn’t know what it was called,” Williamson said. “If I knew from a scouting report that a guy was going to have a lot of two-seam run, or if a guy was going to have a lot of ride, I’d try to either push him away or push him down. But I didn’t know that it was called tunneling. Setting my sights wasn’t really new to me, but the term ‘tunneling’ was new to me.”

So what has he learned about what he does well?

“If I'm on time for a fastball middle-away, I'm also going to be on time for an offspeed pitch that's hung up in the zone and be able to drive them to left-center,” Williamson said. “So basically, just being on time for a fastball to right-center and being able to catch anything else out front that's not a fastball. Then, getting rid of that inner half until two strikes. And after that, it's just competing when I get the two strikes.”

Williamson’s intent behind his preparation extends well beyond the batter’s box. Mariners Minor League hitting coordinator CJ Gillman recently compared his makeup and focus to Mitch Haniger, who’s widely known in the organization for his diligence behind the scenes.

“That's who this guy is. And then when you pair a good swing and physical strength with that, you get what we're seeing,” Gillman said.

Some of that ties back into a few injuries he’s worked through, including a fractured hand after a hit-by-pitch that cut his season short last August. In summer ball going into his senior year at W&M, he suffered an ankle sprain that forced him to spearhead much of his recovery on his own. That led to an elevated awareness for overall health.

“I kind of just took that and ran with it for every other part of my body, I guess, if that makes sense,” Williamson said. “So just focusing on mobility, focusing on my strength just to keep me healthy and keep me on the field. I just noticed a complete difference.”

It’s also perhaps why he’s blossomed into one of the best defensive infielders in the organization. His instincts and first step have allowed him to cobble balls up, while his elite arm strength and quick exchange have helped him finish plays. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him see action at shortstop at some point.

“Make the routine plays routine,” Williamson said. “Whatever level you’re at, the game is going to get faster. And then when it’s not a routine play, be an athlete.”

Williamson is off to a 6-for-17 start at Arkansas and pitcher-friendly Dickey-Stephens Ballpark. He signed for well under slot value, at $600,000, as part of the Mariners’ efforts to aggressively spend on high-school talent with their first three picks -- Colt Emerson (Mariners’ No. 3 prospect), Jonny Farmelo (No. 6) and Tai Peete (No. 7), all of whom have been headliners since Draft Day.

But Williamson should be a name to watch, too, given his strong start to his pro career.