Nick Williams is tearing it up in triple-A. He has eight hits in his last five games, his average is up to .289, his slugging percentage has risen to .461, and he’s running down balls in the outfield as if Joe DiMaggio. Even his strikeouts, one of the reasons he was sent down after a nice spring, are down this month.
But those strikeouts are way down on the list of why he was held back, a byproduct even perhaps of the more looming concern, a concern that I and some who watch him daily still have as the Phillies contemplate promotions at the end of this month.
Williams is less than a month away from a second benching because of lack of hustle and a little more than two months removed from kicking his helmet and sliding into home after a walkoff home run at Lehigh Valley. These are things that would make even Ozzie Guillen cringe, and Iron Pigs manager Dave Brundage is no Ozzie.
This was Brundage six weeks ago when asked about the play and progress of Williams and shortstop phenom J.P. Crawford:
"There is not any thought of them going to the next level. ... They need to get their seasoning and experience here."
Translation, at least to me, is “grow up.’’ This is particularly concerning in regards to Williams, who at 22 is already with his second organization. We celebrate the booty the Phillies extracted from Texas in the Cole Hamels deal, but there needs to be a recognition that the Rangers were willing to deal a guy with all those tools not as a singular chip, but as part of a package that also returned Jake Thompson, quickly rising to be the most anticipated future ace.
Were the Rangers convinced that Williams could not mature? Some of his comments this year are cause for concern. When Brundage benched him the first time in early May for a lack of hustle, Williams talked about it affecting his timing. ``It sucks,’’ he said. ``But I can’t do anything about it.’’
Um, yes, you can. When he was benched a second time in late June mid-game for not running out a ground ball, he told media that he was not given an explanation by the manager. The following day, Brundage said he would not speak to him through the media but added, "I had my conversation with Nick. He understands. He knows. He understands everything that went down.’’
You wonder if he does, at least the way Brundage and the Phillies want him to. No doubt Williams loves to play the game, loves to compete, and has the potential to be something really special. But as long as his regret focuses around sitting out the games rather than the reason for it, you might be creating a clubhouse-dividing presence with a mid-summer promotion, no matter how major-league-ready his five tools make him.
"I understand as far as development, that's what we're here for," Brundage told Greg Joyce of lehighvalleylive.com after the second benching. "We're here to develop. It's also teaching them how to play the game right. That's the bottom line.
“In our conversations, we've talked about playing the game right, playing the game hard and playing to win. I think those are three pretty good things to go on to start with. It's all part of the development. Whether he's in the lineup or not, we'll make sure we get something out of it.’’
The Phillies’ current management group of John Middleton, Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak has spoken repeatedly of creating a culture through a well-mapped rebuild. How those three proceed with Nick Williams will give us an indication of how earnest that mantra is.