Williams, Touki give back to DREAM Series

January 15th, 2021

Brewers right-hander and Braves right-hander are living the dream of playing in the big leagues.

As young as they are, both Toussaint, 24, and Williams, 26, gave back to the baseball community by participating in the 2021 DREAM Series, a showcase event focused on the dynamics of pitching and catching for a diverse group of high school elite athletes. The event, which features predominantly Black players from across the country, is held during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend each year.

This year, the DREAM Series was held virtually, in the form of webinars that brought together young people, who would normally be playing in the tournament, with Major and Minor League players and managers, past and present. The DREAM Series, which was established in 2017, is operated by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball.

The focus of this year's presentations and panel discussions is to inspire athletes and provide keen insight from current and former star Major Leaguers and experts within the game.

Toussaint and Williams participated in the series a few years ago when they were in high school, and they learned a lot from the program. It gave both players an indication of what pro ball would be like. Based on what they have done in the big leagues, the DREAM Series is working.

Williams played in his first full season for the Brewers in 2020 and had a year for the ages, allowing one run in 27 innings before winning National League Rookie of the Year and Reliever of the Year honors. His power changeup was unhittable, and he could throw it in any count.

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Toussaint has had his share of big league experience, throwing 95 innings for the Braves across the past three years. He is looking forward to playing his first full big league season and to hopefully help the Braves reach their first World Series since 1999.

This year, MLB and USA Baseball expanded the impact of the DREAM Series in a virtual setting to hundreds of amateur athletes and coaches. On Friday, Williams, Toussaint, former manager Jerry Manuel and former big league pitcher LaTroy Hawkins had a virtual conversation about pitching with a plan. It ranged from the importance of first-pitch strikes to the mental part of the game. The conversation was moderated by former Major League pitcher Garvin Alston, who had a cup of coffee with the Rockies.

The panel members appeared to be on the same page when it comes to pitching. All five agreed that a pitcher must have fastball command to stay in the big leagues. If you throw the ball where you want, you will be in the game a long time.

“Look at Kyle Hendricks, who throws 88-90 miles an hour. He can throw it wherever he wants,” Toussaint said. “And then you have the guys who get paid – the Gerrit Coles – he throws 98, 100. He can put [the ball] wherever he wants. [Having fastball command] is an absolute to me.”

For Manuel, if someone can pitch without having his best stuff, then you have a chance to be in the big leagues a long time. It’s a trust factor when it comes to pitch ability.

“You must have secondary pitches to make your primary pitches. That’s coming from a manager's point of view,” Manuel said. “As far as location goes, if we call for a ball down and away and he is throwing up and in, somebody in the bullpen will be warming up.”

Hawkins wasn't a flamethrower, but he was good enough to pitch more than 1,400 innings and save 127 games. He began his career as a starter, but found most of his success out of the bullpen.

“I needed to execute and get dialed in as soon as possible,’ Hawkins said. “I didn’t have a lot of strikeouts. I had a lot of guys putting the ball in play. Execution was always on my mind. I talk about having that pitch ability. Being able to have the stuff to get hitters out. After one inning, I wasn’t physically tired; I was mentally trained because I was so locked in. I had a job to do.”

Williams acknowledged that he has to get in the right mindset before he enters a game. It starts in the bullpen. Before going on the mound, Williams wonders how he is going to attack opposing hitters. Once he enters the game, Williams said he thinks about making pitches with a purpose. No doubt, it worked for the right-hander this past season.

“Once you are on the mound, … you want to get ahead, but sometimes you want to throw [the hitter’s] eyes off a little bit or make a purpose pitch,” Williams said.