Connect with us


Perrotto: What If Alika Williams Learns to Hit Big-League Pitching?



Alika Williams, Pittsburgh Pirates

Alika Williams still shakes his head in amazement about the surprising turn his 2023 season took.

The slick-fielding infielder was at Double-A Montgomery on June 2 when the Tampa Bay Rays traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Robert Stephenson. Williams’ path to being the Rays’ starting shortstop seemed forever blocked by Wander Franco, who was in just the second year of an 11-year contract.

Less than two months later, Williams made his major-league debut with the Pirates on July 25.

“It was a dream come true,” Williams said of reaching the big leagues recently following a workout at the Pirates’ spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. “It wasn’t in the forefront of my mind when I got traded. I was in Double-A with the Rays just trying to play my best every day then the trade happens and I get to the bigs. It all happened really fast, and it was a lot of fun.”

Williams was one of seven players used at shortstop after Oneil Cruz sustained a season-ending broken ankle on April 9. Williams’ 33 starts were the second-most on the team after Tucupita Marcano’s 44.

Cruz has returned from his injury and seems to be rounding into form. The Pirates remain convinced that Cruz can become a superstar with his blend of power, speed and a strong throwing arm.

So, with Cruz back as the starting shortstop, Williams’ best path to a spot on the Pirates’ opening-day roster is either as the primary second baseman or as a utility infielder.

However, Liover Peguero, Jared Triolo and Ji Hwan Bae appear ahead of Williams in the pecking order. One of the three will likely be the starting second baseman when the season begins with the other two serving in bench roles.

Thus, the 24-year-old Williams seems ticketed to begin the season at Triple-A Indianapolis.

That does not necessarily mean Williams’ future is limited with the Pirates, though. He proved last season that he could handle playing shortstop in the major leagues from a defensive standpoint.

Williams had two defensive runs saved. Going by the eye test, though, he seemed to provide even more value with his ability to make highlight-reel plays.

“I’ve always loved defense,” Williams said. “It’s something I have a lot of fun with. It’s something I take a lot of pride in. It’s always kind of been my thing.”

The question about Williams, though, is if he can hit despite being a first-round draft pick by the Rays in 2020 from Arizona State.

Williams batted just .198/.270/.248 with no home runs in 46 games overall with the Pirates last year. He also struck out 35 times in 112 plate appearances.

In 247 minor-league games over three seasons, Williams’ slash line was also an unimposing .261/.338/.403 to go with 27 homers. Furthermore, Williams homered just five times in college in 129 career games.

However, Williams’ offensive production after the Pirates assigned him to Indianapolis following the trade was intriguing as he worked with Indians hitting coach Eric Munson. Williams hit .305/.384/.531 with seven homers in 36 games.

While Williams didn’t carry that level of hitting over to the majors after his callup, the Pirates have hope he can be at least a competent hitter in the big leagues. Baseball America ranked Williams as the 22nd-best prospect in the organization going into spring training.

“We worked on staying on my legs a little bit more,” Williams said of his time with Munson. “We figured something out and it felt really good. This whole offseason, I worked on those things I worked on at Indy and then all the things I worked on with (hitting coach Andy Haines) in the big leagues. It feels good. I think I’ve become a better hitter.”

Williams feels his hitting suffered in the majors because he put too much pressure on himself.

“I think the biggest thing I learned is I’ve got to stay within myself,” Williams said. “It’s really easy to get distracted. It’s easy to kind of see what other guys are doing and trying to do more than what you’re supposed to do. I’m a contact guy. I’m a defense guy. I think if I can do the job to the best of my ability then everything will follow.”

No one knows if Cruz will suffer any long-term effects from his injury. There is also the question of whether the 6-foot-7 Cruz can play shortstop over the long haul.

So, if Williams can become just an average big-league hitter — a big if — he could be a good long-term insurance policy.

Subscribe Today!

Subscribe today!

PBN in your Inbox

Enter your email address to get all of our posts sent directly to your inbox.

Copyright © 2024 National Hockey Now. All rights reserved. In no way endorsed by the Pittsburgh Pirates or Major League Baseball.

Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER (PA/IL) or 1-800-9-WITH-IT (IN only) or 1-800-BETS-OFF (IA only) or 1-800-522-4700 (CO Only) or TN REDLINE: 800-889-9789.