Williams off to a blazing start with the Biscuits

April 16th, 2024

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

ST. PETERSBURG -- has all the tools. He’s got power at the plate, speed on the basepaths, a cannon of a throwing arm and all the defensive ability you’d want at a premium position like shortstop.

The only question that has followed Williams through the Minors, from the time he was the Rays’ first-round pick in the 2021 Draft until this spring, was whether he’d hit enough -- or if his tendency to swing and miss would keep him from fulfilling his considerable potential.

So far, so good this season.

Williams is off to arguably the best start of any player in the Rays’ system, as MLB Pipeline’s No. 19 overall prospect has gone 12-for-27 (.444) with one home run, four doubles, 10 runs, five RBIs, four steals and only five strikeouts in 31 plate appearances over seven games for Double-A Montgomery. His performance was recognized on Monday as he was named the Southern League Player of the Week.

Williams, the Rays’ No. 2 prospect behind only , made it clear during his first big league Spring Training camp that he was determined to cut down on his strikeouts and improve his contact rate after whiffing in 31.4% of his plate appearances last season. Rather than setting specific statistical goals for himself, he talked about things like his mentality, his timing and feeling relaxed at the plate.

“It's just getting more comfortable in the box, making sure my move’s cleaner and direction and all different types of stuff,” Williams said this spring. “We've been working, and it feels really good right now. Like where it's headed.”

The Rays still like where he’s headed. They knew it might take time for Williams to refine his approach, especially since he didn’t exactly grow up as a baseball rat. As he explained during Spring Training, Williams spent most of his childhood years outside playing all sorts of sports, hunting, fishing, snowboarding and, of course, surfing. He wasn’t playing baseball year-round or glued to the TV watching games.

But he’s taken strides every year since he joined the Rays’ system, and it appears he could take another big leap this season.

“He’s starting to understand his strengths, his plan at the plate, how to attack pitchers, how pitchers are going to attack him and he’s able to make adjustments pitch to pitch,” senior director of player development Blake Butera said. “He looks really good.”

Let’s look at four more players off to a hot start in the Rays' system, featuring one from each of their full-season affiliates.

Triple-A Durham: Of course Caminero is off to a great start, and he didn’t miss a beat in his return from the injured list after being out for two weeks with a left quad strain. But don’t overlook what catcher is doing, either. Splitting time behind the plate with Alex Jackson (and occasionally Rob Brantly), Driscoll has gone 13-for-40 (.325) with one homer, one triple and six doubles to go along with five walks and only seven strikeouts.

Double-A Montgomery: The Biscuits swept the Southern League’s weekly honors, as right-hander was named the Pitcher of the Week on Monday after striking out four over five hitless innings, with one unearned run allowed on one walk, in his season debut Thursday. The Rays’ No. 12 prospect is repeating Double-A after an uneven first full season back from Tommy John surgery last year, but he still has a high ceiling. Fellow starters Ian Seymour (No. 19 prospect) and Ben Peoples have been great, too.

High-A Bowling Green: Speedy center fielder has had an on-brand start to the season. He’s consistently making contact, with 13 hits and only four strikeouts in 29 at-bats (.448 average). He’s not hitting for power, with no extra-base hits yet. And he’s running wild, with 10 stolen bases in seven games. He’s hit safely in every game he’s played and stolen a base in all but one of them. It’s what the Rays expected from their No. 11 prospect, who has set out to steal at least 100 bases this season, but still encouraging for one of the Minors’ most unique prospects.

Single-A Charleston: Right-hander , the Rays’ No. 9 prospect, has been dominant. Suarez has 15 strikeouts without a walk and has permitted only three total hits in a pair of five-inning starts. The Rays remain thrilled about the 19-year-old’s beyond-his-years maturity, confidence, consistent strike-throwing and feel for how to attack opposing hitters, as he always seems to be in control on the mound.