Several clubs are already playing exhibition games as the unofficial start to their Spring Trainings, but that does not stop the restless churn of Jerry Dipoto as they seek to pluck a bit of gold from the dross of the waiver wire. The most recent acquisition: 28-year-old short king (5’11”) reliever Taylor Williams, recently DFA’d by the Brewers to make room for newly-signed Brock Holt [pause to allow anguished howl of Red Sox fans everywhere to echo across the lands]. A Vancouver, WA native, Williams will compete for a bullpen role with his hometown Mariners.
Although Williams is just a few months shy of his 29th birthday, there’s not a ton of mileage on his arm. The 2013 fourth-round draft pick impressed early in his Brewers career, but after a standout spring training in 2015, developed the dreaded sog and was sidelined all season. He didn’t go under the knife for TJ until August of that year, instead opting for a PRP injection, which wound up wiping out his entire 2015 and 2016 seasons. Unfortunately, injury issues persisted for Williams and he missed a week in 2017 and a week-plus in 2018 with the ominous-sounding “right elbow soreness.”
Meanwhile, the Brewers had attempted to rush the power arm, who once drew comparisons to Craig Kimbrel, back into action, giving Williams a cup of coffee in 2017 after he had completed 45 Double-A innings with a good K% (28.6%) but a strangely spiked walk rate (10.6%, double his walk rate earlier in the minors). Those command issues persisted in 2018 and 2019 as Williams yo-yoed between Triple-A and the big leagues, flirting with a double-digit BB% at every stop.
What Williams brings to the table is a lively mid-90s fastball with a plus spin rate and a mid-80s slider that generates a lot of whiffs. No, like, a lot of whiffs.
Leaders among RP in slider whiff% in 2018 (min. 300 thrown):— Matt Wilkes (@_MattWilkes) March 19, 2019
Tanner Scott: 30.0%
Will Smith: 29.2%
Edwin Diaz: 29.1%
Ken Giles: 27.6%
Amir Garrett: 26.9%
Taylor Williams 25.8%
Jose Leclerc: 24.2%
Andrew Chafin: 23.9%
Jeurys Familia: 22.6%
Edgar Santana: 22.1%
Even though Williams gets more whiffs on the slider, the fastball is really the better pitch on paper, with above-average spin (77th percentile) and well-above average drop; he’s also able to land it in the strike zone slightly more than the slider, which can wind up buried in the dirt. He’s also good at managing contact, allowing a below-average % of barrels (6% vs. league average of 7%) and getting a very high percentage of grounders. If the Mariners are able to help him make a slight mechanical adjustment to improve his control, Williams has late-inning and potential closer upside.
In order to make room for Williams, the Mariners designated RHP Phillips Valdez for assignment. Valdez was one of the off-season’s earliest acquisitions, claimed off waivers from Texas on November 1st. Valdez is also a 28-year-old righty with a mid-90s fastball who battles control problems, and although he comes without Williams’s pedigree he also comes without his injury history. The Mariners will hopefully take advantage of other teams suiting up against directionally-named local colleges as a chance to sneak Valdez through waivers.