Carson Williams is a high-profile prospect in a fertile Tampa Bay Rays farm system. Drafted 28th overall in 2021 out of San Diego’s Torrey Pines High School, the 20-year-old shortstop is No. 20 in MLB Pipeline’s recently-released Top 100, and he will also rank prominently when our own list comes out next month. His 2023 production provided ample evidence of his plus tools. Playing primarily at High-A Bowling Green, and with cups of coffee at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, Williams walloped 23 home runs while putting up a 130 wRC+.
Erik Neander was effusive in his praise when giving a synopsis of the young infielder during November’s GM Meetings.
“Incredible physical potential in all aspects of the game, both sides of the ball,” Tampa Bay’s President of Baseball Operations told me. “And someone who is made to do this, mentally and emotionally. He handles it well. It’s pretty close to a total package in terms of his potential and the ingredients you like to see at such a young age.”
Fittingly, Williams came off as both humble and self-aware when I spoke to him late in the Arizona Fall League season. Asked where he is in his development, he replied that he was “right in the middle of it,” adding that “the minor leagues are a tough road” and he is “going through all of the normal things that a kid out of high school has to.” One of them, as he readily admits, is the challenge of competing against professional pitchers who possess bat-missing repertoires. If a red flag exists within his prospect profile, it would be the 31.4% strikeout rate on last year’s ledger.
“I’m working on my contact rate,” acknowledged Williams.“I’m not worried about the exit velos, the launch angles, or anything like that. My swing is powerful, so when I put the ball in play it is usually coming out hot. Right now, my focus is on putting the ball in play. The more I put the ball in play, the better hitter I will be.”
He could have been a pitcher. Many scouts preferred him on the mound, and there are those who believe he could even succeed as a two-way player. I broached that subject with Tampa Bay’s top executive.
“That would be a better question for him,” said Neander. “It was something where he certainly had a lot of talent on the mound, but ultimately there was a desire for him to have the opportunity to play shortstop and be an every-day player.”
Was it Williams’s desire to settle solely on short, thereby forgoing pitching?
“That was our opinion of where he was better, and it seemed to align well with where his interests were,” was Neander’s reply to that question. “We had him evaluated stronger on that side of the ball, and it’s why we took him. He signed, and we couldn’t be more pleased with his development.”
Williams demurred when I asked for his own thoughts on the subject.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
I ran a poll this week asking which of two theoretical middle-infield combinations people would prefer, Lou Whitaker–Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley–Alan Trammell. The results were relatively one-sided, with the latter pair garnering a hefty 77.7% of the votes cast.
The poll was a thought experiment more than anything, so there is no real reason to debate the results. That said, here are a smattering of their combined numbers:
Whitaker-Rollins: 4,824 hits, 475 home runs, 613 stolen bases, 117.7 WAR.
Utley-Trammell: 4,250 hits, 444 home runs, 390 stolen bases, 125.3 WAR.
Who holds the MLB record for most games played as a first baseman?
The answer can be found below.
Terry Ryan and Rick Stelmaszek have been elected to the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame. Ryan served as the team’s general manager from 1994-2007 and again from 2011-2016. Stelmaszek, who died of cancer in 2017, was a member of the club’s coaching staff for 32 consecutive seasons beginning in 1980.
Ryan Braun has been elected to the The Milwaukee Brewers Walk of Fame. Braun spent his entire 14-year career with the Brewers, bashing a franchise-best 352 home runs and logging a 135 wRC+ from 2017-2020. His résumé also includes six All-Star berths, a Rookie of Year award, and a National League MVP award.
The Miami Marlins are reportedly hiring Brandon Mann as a pitching strategist. An erstwhile MLB and NPB southpaw who has worked as an instructor at Driveline, Mann was featured here at FanGraphs in June 2020.
Ballpark Digest has chosen Alex Cohen as their 2023 Broadcaster of the Year. A guest on FanGraphs Audio back in August 2021, Cohen calls games for the Iowa Cubs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.
The Visalia Rawhide (Low-A, Arizona Diamondbacks) have hired Joey Gonzales as their new play-by-play broadcaster. An intern in 2023, the Texas State University alum replaces Jill Gearin, who will now be calling games for the Atlantic League’s Charleston Dirty Birds.
Steve Staggs, an infielder who played with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977 and for the Oakland Athletics in 1978, died last Sunday at age 72 (per Baseball Player Passings). One of a dozen Alaska-born players in MLB history, the Anchorage native logged 94 career hits, the first of them a home runs in his big-league debut.
Red Swanson, a right-handed pitcher who appeared in 42 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-1957, died this week at age 87. A bonus baby, Swanson made his big-league debut when he was 18 and threw his last big-league pitch three weeks before his 21st birthday. His career log includes a 3-3 record and a 4.90 ERA.
The answer to the quiz is Eddie Murray, who played in 2,513 games as a first baseman.
A related Murray note: The Hall of Famer started three big-league games as a third baseman, all with the Baltimore Orioles to open the 1978 season, and with Lee May stationed at first. The Orioles were outscored 40-11 while being swept by the Milwaukee Brewers in the season-opening set.
Bill James revealed on Friday that he recently suffered a stroke. Per his social media message, the renowned writer/statistician/historian is “more or less OK,” with numbness in his right hand seemingly the primary issue. Needless to say, the entire world wishes him the best in his recovery.
A random obscure former player snapshot:
Bibb Falk — his given name was Bibb August Falk — batted .314 while playing for the Chicago White Sox from 1920-1928 and the Cleveland Indians from 1929-1932. Born in Austin, Texas on January 27, 1899, the left-handed-hitting outfielder had his best season in 1926 when he slashed .345/.415/.477 with a 134 wRC+ and a career high 195 hits. He went on to be the head baseball coach at the University of Texas from 1940-1967.
Hiroki Kuroda and Motonobu Tanishige were announced last week as the newest members of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. Kuroda won 124 games over 13 seasons with NPB’s Hiroshima Carp, and 79 games over seven seasons pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees. Tanishige, who caught for Yokohama and Chunichi in a career that spanned the 1989-2015 seasons, played in 3,021 games, the most in Japanese history.
The Perth Heat and Adelaide Giants advanced to the Australian Baseball League championship series earlier today, with each winning the deciding game of a best-of-three semi-final matchup. Adelaide edged past the Melbourne Aces 2-1, while the Heat beat the Brisbane Bandits 5-4. The finals — beginning next Friday — will be a repeat of last year, which saw the Giants come out on top.
The Kia Tigers have suspended manager Kim Jong-kook, who is being investigated for bribery charges (link to story here). The KBO club’s general manager had been fired a year ago due to similar improprieties.
MLB NOW recently presented a list of the Top 10 left fielders not in the Hall of Fame, this per the opinion of Bob Costas. I’m on board with the bulk of the selections, with one notable exception. Costas included Kirk Gibson, who started just 456 games at that position over the course of his career. Moreover, Gibson isn’t even the best non-Hall of Fame Detroit Tiger to have played left field with any regularity. No offense to Gibson, but he logged 1,553 hits, 2,686 total bases, a 123 wRC+, and 35.9 WAR. Bobby Veach, who started 1,653 games as a left fielder, logged 2,063 hits, 2,942 total bases, a 124 wRC+, and 43.8 WAR. Gibson has postseason heroics on his side, but that is largely circumstantial. Veach’s October résumé comprises just two plate appearances, both at age 37 in his final season.
Veach played from 1912-1925, all but the last two years in a Detroit uniform, and to say that he was overshadowed by teammates would be an understatement. Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Harry Heilmann were all Tigers during his tenure, and each has a plaque hanging in Cooperstown. Veach wasn’t their equal, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one of ten best left fielders not in the Hall of Fame. Even if he isn’t, he has better credentials than Gibson.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Pitcher List’s Nate Kosher looked at eight players who belong in the Hall of Fame.
The Cleveland Guardians 2024 home opener, on April 8, will take place amid a total solar eclipse. Zack Meisel wrote about it at The Athletic (subscription required).
Carter Stewart is set to begin his sixth season pitching in Japan, this after signing with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks rather than with the Atlanta Braves, who’d drafted him eighth-overall out of a Florida high school in 2018. Jim Allen talked to the 24-year-old right-hander for The Kyodo News.
Roki Sasaki re-signed with NPB’s Chiba Lotte Marines this week, but only for one year as he hopes to take his immense talent to MLB. Thomas Harrigan has the story at MLB.com.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Brandon Marsh has a .384 BABIP, the highest among active players with at least 1,000 career plate appearances. Bo Bichette has a .349 BABIP, the highest among active players with at least 2,000 career plate appearances.
Joe Mauer played in 1,858 games and had a .306 batting average and a 123 wRC. Ernie Lombardi played in 1,853 games and had a .306 batting average and a 125 wRC. They are the only two catchers in MLB history with multiple batting titles.
Hall of Fame southpaw Warren Spahn had eight 21-win seasons. He also had two 22-win seasons, two 23-win seasons, and one 20-win season.
Wilbur Wood had 138 wins and 53 saves from 1968-1975. The left-handed knuckleballer tossed 22 shutouts over that eight-season stretch.
The San Francisco Giants signed Dan Quisenberry as a free agent on today’s date in 1990. The once-great closer went on to take the mound just five times for the Giants, logging a 13.50 ERA in his final big-league season.
On today’s date in 1982, the California Angels acquired Doug DeCinces and Jeff Schneider from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Disco Dan Ford. DeCinces went on to leave the yard 30 times while logging a 147 wRC+ in his first season on the West Coast. All told, he homered 130 times in six seasons as an Angel.
Players born on today’s date include Emil Yde, a left-handed pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1924-1927 and for the Detroit Tigers in 1929. The Great Lakes, Illinois native went 16-3 with a 2.83 ERA in his rookie season, followed by a 17-9 record for a team that went on to win the 1925 World Series in seven games over Walter Johnson’s Washington Nationals.
Also born on today’s date was Pete Runnels, a left-handed-hitting infielder who captured American League batting titles with the Boston Red Sox in 1960 and 1962. A career .291 hitter over 14 big-league seasons, Runnels went 0-10 in stolen base attempts with the Washington Nationals in 1952, five years before the team was rebranded the Senators in 1957.