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Prospect Williams' star continues to rise

Powerful slugger rips RBI double vs. Tigers, focuses on simple approach to advanced pitching
MLB.com @wwchastain

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Flash back several springs to see Jake Odorizzi getting in his work during a backfield outing against a group of Rays Minor Leaguers.

Suddenly, he found himself facing a left-hander. Odorizzi delivered. The left-hander swung and connected. The baseball turned small in a hurry, and the anonymous hitter scooted around the bases with a round-tripper.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Flash back several springs to see Jake Odorizzi getting in his work during a backfield outing against a group of Rays Minor Leaguers.

Suddenly, he found himself facing a left-hander. Odorizzi delivered. The left-hander swung and connected. The baseball turned small in a hurry, and the anonymous hitter scooted around the bases with a round-tripper.

That Minor Leaguer's name was Justin Williams, and the 22-year-old outfielder from Houma, La., is in camp with the Rays this spring. According to MLB Pipeline, is the No. 10 prospect in the Rays' organization. While he's got a complete set of tools, power is his calling card.

"He can impact a baseball like not too many in our entire organization," Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "It jumps off his bat and it can go to left field, center field, right field. He has power to all fields."

Williams showed that power when he ripped an RBI double Saturday during a 7-4 win against the Tigers.

Williams came to the Rays in the deal that sent Jeremy Hellickson to the Diamondbacks after the 2014 season. He's hit everywhere he's played.

Last season, Williams won Most Valuable Player honors at Double-A Montgomery after hitting .301 with 14 home runs and 72 RBIs, impressing Lukevics along the way.

Video: Top Prospects: Justin Williams, OF, Rays

"Justin Williams turned his season around at Montgomery last season in the second half," Lukevics said. "Earlier in the season he was swinging at a lot of balls out of the zone. Swinging wildly. In that second half of the season, he really looked over the strikeouts. Looked over the strike zone so much better. And was so much better on the bat-ball ratio and getting the ball in play."

Williams is earmarked for a full season at Triple-A Durham, which puts him within striking distance of the Major Leagues. The easygoing Williams said he's not frustrated about the organization taking its time to bring him to the Show.

"I'm happy with whatever decision they make," Williams said. "I'll worry about the things I can control."

Williams was called up to Durham for the International League playoffs last season and hit .333 (4-for-12) with a double and three walks in four games. The experience opened his eyes about advanced pitching.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"I was there for the playoffs and every day was their ace," Williams said. "I could definitely tell guys thought differently. They didn't give in. They didn't really give in. It could be 2-0, 3-0, 3-1, they're not giving in. They're still going to make their pitch. And if they don't, on to the next pitch.

"That's the biggest difference I saw. Guys didn't really dwell on the pitch before. I feel like once pitchers do that, they lose focus. And once they do that, they make more mistakes. The guys up there had a better plan about how to get you out."

Williams' approach to hitting is simple.

"To get a ball I can get extension on and just get off my A swing," he said. "If I can get off my A swing, I'd say at least 90 percent of the time I'll be OK."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.

Tampa Bay Rays, Justin Williams