Williams' blistering speed turning heads in Asheville

May 18th, 2024

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

HOUSTON -- , Zach Cole and Pedro León are considered the fastest runners who are ranked by MLB Pipeline on the Astros’ Top 30 prospects list, with all three grading a 65 for speed on the 20-80 scale for future tools. Then there’s Jeron Williams, a 23-year-old shortstop at High-A Asheville who could be even faster.

Williams, a ninth-round pick last year out of the University of Toledo, isn’t as heralded in the Astros’ organization as Melton (No. 1), Cole (No. 7) or León (No. 27), but he has the kind of tools that could make him a fast mover through the Houston system. He entered Saturday slashing .326/.386/.551 with four homers, 19 RBIs and nine stolen bases in his first 24 games at High-A Asheville.

“He is right up there,” Astros senior director of player development and performance science Jacob Buffa said. “I think we have three guys that are basically tied in terms of on-field speed … Melton, León and Cole. Jeron is up there, if not a tick faster than that.”

Last year at Toledo, Williams started 55 games at shortstop and hit .403 with 14 home runs, 48 RBIs, 67 runs scored, 16 doubles, four triples, a .681 slugging percentage, .467 on-base percentage, and 49 stolen bases, which led the NCAA Division I level. He had seven more steals than any other player en route to being named MAC Player of the Year.

“Jeron was an uber athlete and performer out of college,” Buffa said. “We liked the profile. He’s the fastest guy on the team that makes a lot of contact in the middle infield spot. He’s gotten here to Asheville and shown that he’s exactly what he is. He plays excellent defense. He gets to most balls that are hit on the left side of the infield. He’s lit it up pretty well offensively so far since being here. He has a really high contact rate across all pitches. He’s a real tough out. He’s really exciting.”

The ability to run fast is one thing, but how does that speed translate as a defender?

“One of the things that a lot of these young infielders are trying to work through are instincts,” Buffa said. “It’s different seeing the ball off wood [bats] when you spent so much time seeing it off metal [in college]. That plays a factor into it. What’s largely benefitted him is he’s so fast. It doesn’t inhibit him. He’s still getting to balls that most people don’t, which is exciting to think about. When he refines his position and becomes a highly skilled shortstop, I think the sky’s the limit defensively for him.”

The Astros would like Williams to add some juice and hit the ball with more authority, which will come as he gets older and stronger. There is no rush, especially when he’s excelling and using his speed as well as he has.

“His performance at this level has been outstanding with the tools that he’s got,” Buffa said.

The Astros will take the same approach with Williams as they do with most players -- his performance is going to speak for itself.

“We’ve got some on-field goals for him in terms of power and performance as he hits those over a large enough sample, we can push him to the next level as far as his performance allows,” Buffa said.

Let’s take a look at what’s going on in some other levels of the Astros’ system:

Triple-A Sugar Land: On Thursday night, Space Cowboys right-handers AJ Blubaugh, Alex Speas, Luis Contreras, and left-hander Bryan King combined to strike out 15 batters against Albuquerque, which is the most strikeouts in a game this season for Sugar Land. Blubaugh started and struck out eight batters in 5 1/3 innings, giving up one run, two hits and three walks.

Double-A Corpus Christi: Right-hander , the team’s No. 21 prospect by MLB Pipeline, continues to turn heads for the Hooks. He allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings in Thursday’s win over San Antonio, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out six batters. In eight starts, Ullola leads the Texas League in batting average against (.135) and strikeouts (56), and ranks second in innings (39 1/3) and fourth in WHIP (1.02).

“He’s been striking out the world with minimal walks, which is something that our pitching coach has been working with him with,” Buffa said. “It’s really exciting to see a 21-year-old who can touch 98 miles an hour with a 40 percent K-rate at Double-A.”

Single-A Fayetteville: When it comes to outstanding tools, ’s hands and range are elite. Jaworsky is a 6-foot-2 left-handed hitter who was taken in the fifth round of last year’s MLB Draft. At this time last year, he was playing baseball at Rock Canyon High School in Highland Ranch, Colo.

“He’s arguably the best shortstop on the field in any given game that he’s playing,” Buffa said.

Jaworsky is slashing .218/.358/.376 through 29 games for the Woodpeckers with three homers, 13 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. He’s struck out 27 times in 101 at-bats.