Christian Williams is spending his first year in full-season ball with Lansing after short-season stints with Bluefield and Vancouver.
Conventional baseball wisdom suggests that hitting for power is the last tool to develop and 2016 Vancouver Canadians first baseman Christian Williams hopes it will happen for him sooner rather than later. Baseball America named the Gulf Coast Community College Commodores product the Toronto Blue Jays’ top power hitter in the 2015 draft. The Jays grabbed Williams in the 16th round and gave him a signing bonus of $200,000.
There have been recent signs Williams is beginning to translate his raw power into games. The 22 year-old from Stuart, Florida belted his first Midwest League home run with a line drive to right-center field against the Great Lakes Loons May 26. The left-handed hitting Williams then reached base five times with three hits (including his second home run) and two walks in a 15-9 win against the Lake County Captains June 1. He found his home run swing again in Fort Wayne Saturday and added a double in a losing cause against the Wizards.
Williams is hitting .246 with a slugging percentage of just .342 and he has had trouble making contact by striking out over 28 percent of the time. On the positive side, he is hitting the ball harder with a line drive rate above 24 percent and he has walked over 10 percent of the time to bring his on-base percentage up to .330.
Williams talked to Lansing broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler in April about his development in the pros.
“I think I’ve just become a more mature player. Coming out of college I didn’t really have a hitting approach, I just went up there and hit the fastball but now with guys (knowing) how to pitch…you got to figure out pitcher’s tendencies and all that stuff.”
The 6-foot-3, 210 pound Williams was actually a leadoff hitter in his senior year at Vero Beach High School and says he drew about 45 walks in 22 games, showing a good batting eye early on. He hit .398 with a 1.037 on-base percentage in 123 at-bats during his freshman season of 2014 at Gulf Coast Community College but his year was cut short after breaking his hand. The Miami Marlins selected him in the 28th round of that year’s draft but he did not sign because he didn’t feel he was ready for the pros at that time. He returned to the Commodores and batted .320 while being hit by a pitch 14 times.
Christian Williams saw most of his action at first base with Vancouver last year after splitting at time at first and third in Bluefield in 2015.
It was quite the grind for Williams in his rookie year and it all began in the days leading up to the draft.
“The whole draft process was just brutal. I wouldn’t want to relive it again,” said Williams. ” It was awesome to get picked but it was so stressful because you never really know if you’ll get picked or not. A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of phone calls, a lot of questionnaires – it’s a lot to deal with.”
He credited his father when he did get drafted.
“Ever since I was a young kid, he was the one who took me to the field and threw me BP everyday,” Williams said. “Poor guy can’t even lift his arm up anymore because he threw so much so that was the first person I called (after being drafted).”
Williams began his pro career in Bluefield in 2015 and had a single in his first pro-bat June 23 before driving in his first two runs the next night against the Elizabethton Twins. He reached base at least once in his first 11 games. The high point of the season was a 4-for-4 performance that included his first professional home run against the Princeton Rays July 11, finishing a triple short of the cycle. He would put together another four-hit game against the Burlington Royals August 30 but finished the season with a slash line of .220/.285/.318 with 11 doubles, two triples, two homers and 29 runs batted in. Williams said his introduction to the pro game was a learning experience.
“It wasn’t the greatest but I had a lot to figure out,” Williams said. “I wasn’t used to playing every day. I’ve had to figure out how to take care out of my body but it was a good experience.”
Williams said he enjoyed for playing for Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg, who gave him the nickname ‘Gumby’, the clay animation character that was created in the 1950s. Williams is not sure why he got that moniker.
“I have no idea,” Williams said. “Actually last year when I was in Vancouver, I got a package in the mail from him and it was a Gumby toy. That’s just who Dennis Holmberg is. It was awesome to play for him and have him be my first manager.”
Christian Williams had 13 multi-hit games with Vancouver last season.
Williams began 2016 with Vancouver and had a two-hit game on Opening Night against the Spokane Indians June 18. He was batting .297 up to June 27 but fell on hard times in July by hitting just .212 for the month. Williams rebounded in August with his best month as a pro to date by hitting .260 with a .763 OPS. He put together a seven-game hitting streak as well as on-base streaks of nine and eight games. His final 2016 stats with the C’s included a batting line of .236/.341/.340 with 10 doubles, four home runs and 20 RBI.
Williams has eight home runs in his pro career but the longest one he ever hit came during his junior college days.
“I was at Lakeland playing in the juco state tournament at the Tigers spring training place and there’s batting cages behind the right field wall, probably about 70 to 80 feet back there and I hit it over the batting cage. It bounced in the street and onto the back fields, maybe 475-480 (feet) if I had to guess. A pretty good shot.”
That’s the kind of power Williams is capable of and that’s what the Blue Jays are hoping to see more of from him in 2017 and beyond.