ST. PETERSBURG -- After selecting right-handed pitcher Nick Bitsko with the No. 24 pick on Wednesday night, the Rays went back to the college ranks, selecting Arizona State shortstop Alika Williams with the No. 37 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft.
“Our history with Alika has been for quite a bit of time,” said senior director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler. “Our evaluation in high school was that Alika was going to be this kind of player, we just felt it was in his best interest to go to college, continue to gain strength and continue to show off his skills, and he did everything he needed to in college.”
Coming out of Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, Williams was regarded as one of the best defensive shortstops in the country. The knock on Williams, however, was his ability to put up consistent numbers at the plate.
He was able to answer some of those questions during his sophomore season with the Sun Devils.
Williams served as the cleanup hitter for Arizona State, hitting right behind Spencer Torkelson, who was selected with the No. 1 pick by the Tigers on Wednesday. Behind Torkelson, Williams provided quality protection for the slugger, earning an All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2019 after posting a .333 batting average and 53 RBIs, both career highs.
Williams attributed his improvement to his work with head coach Tracy Smith, and to his relationship with Torkelson.
“Being able to play with that guy every day really helped me develop as a hitter as well, just seeing what he did well and being able to pick his brain day in and day out,” Williams said. “I’d say he helped me a lot, for sure.”
Williams’ ability to control the strike zone also played a big role in his success at Arizona State. In 549 plate appearances with the Sun Devils, Williams struck out just 49 times. That ability, plus his defense at shortstop, is exactly why the Rays wanted to add Williams to the organization.
“We see him as a well-rounded prospect,” Metzler said. “We very much appreciate his defensive skills and we think he’s a true shortstop prospect, but we also think he has a chance to be an impactful offensive player.”
Williams joins a Rays farm system that is loaded from top to bottom, especially in the middle infield. Wander Franco, the top prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, headlines the group, but Vidal Brujan, Xavier Edwards and 2019 first-round Draft selection Greg Jones are also considered top 10 prospects in the organization, per Pipeline.
“I’m a big Greg Jones fan. I remember playing against that guy in college and he’s a very talented player,” Williams said. “I think it’s good. The competition brings out the best in all players. It’s going to be fun.”