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How Nick Williams finally learned the importance of hustling all the time

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How Nick Williams finally learned the importance of hustling all the time

Nick Williams is one game shy of a half-season in the major leagues.

He has played 80 games with the Phillies since coming up from Triple A at the end of June. He has had exactly 300 at-bats.

Some of the shortcomings that plagued the talented outfielder in the minors — particularly plate discipline — have followed him to the majors. His strikeouts (93) are high and his walks (19) are low. Those rates need improving. Some of his routes in the outfield need brushing up.

But all in all, for a kid who turned 24 earlier this month and was coming off a poor second half in Triple A last season, Williams has been a nice success story for these Phillies. He has hit often in the middle of the batting order and sports a .283 batting average, a .334 on-base percentage and a .467 slugging percentage. Twenty-nine of his 85 hits have been for extra bases. He has 11 homers and 52 RBIs.

"He's got a real knack for driving in runs," manager Pete Mackanin said. "And a very high ceiling."

Williams vows to keep working in the offseason, vows to strive for the improvement that will help him reach his potential and make him a core player next season. He certainly looks like one.

But there is one area where Williams might not need improvement, one area that he seems to have already successfully addressed.

Remember last season when Williams made headlines for not hustling in Triple A? He was benched by then-Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage a couple of times for not running out balls. (Good for Brundage, by the way, for having standards.) Well, Williams appears to have corrected that flaw. He runs the bases hard. He plays with energy and a smile, like he's having fun, and that has a positive effect on a team.

Williams acknowledges his mistakes last season.

"It shouldn’t have happened on my part," he said.

The benchings helped him see the light. But it wasn't until earlier this season, while playing back at Lehigh Valley under manager Dusty Wathan, that Williams said he was cured of any remaining flaws in the hustle department.

"There was a game where I came out of the box but didn't run hard all the way," he said.

It was time for another lesson. Not a benching. But definitely a lesson in the ongoing process of building a ballplayer.

The next day, Wathan brought Williams into the video room and cued up several shots from above home plate that showed Williams running from home to first. Williams busted it on some of them. He coasted on others.

Any reporter who has ever done a background story on Williams knows he has two younger brothers, Seth, 13, and Jonah, 11, back home in Texas. Williams' love for them is clear. He mentions them all the time — with a big smile crossing his face. Seth and Jonah are both ballplayers and their big brother is their hero.

In the video room at Lehigh Valley earlier this season, Wathan looked at Williams.

"What if your brothers or a kid who had just gotten your Bobblehead see that?" Wathan asked Williams. "What do you tell them?"

The visual resonated with Williams. So did the manager's words.

Lesson learned.

"Some guys are visual learners and we have a lot of visual aids," said Wathan, who is spending the month of September on the big-league coaching staff. "Some guys need to see what something looks like from the outside.

"To Nick's credit, he said it didn't look very good and he changed. In fact, as the season went on there were scouts who approached me and said they didn’t realize he could run that well."

Williams recalled the trip into the video room.

"When Dusty showed me what it looks like, I was like, 'Man, that does look bad,'" Williams admitted. "It was good because it wasn't just words. Because sometimes, you know, words can go in one ear and out the other."

When Wathan brought Williams' brothers into the lesson — it was a deal closer.

"It hit home because when I watch them play they imitate everything I do, the way I squat in the batter's box, everything," Williams said. "They try to wear whatever number I do. It definitely hit home."

Wathan offered Williams' growth and improvement as an example of a player becoming more mature. Every player goes through it and they all progress at different rates.

"He matured," Wathan said. "He took the blame, owned up to it and changed.

"I think we forget sometimes, these high-profile prospects coming out of high school and coming over in trades like Nick did, there's a lot of pressure on these guys from media, agents, friends. Everybody is like, 'When are you going to get there?' They have to deal with a lot of stuff and you never know what's going on in their mind. But once they get [to the majors], they can just play baseball and let their natural ability come out.

"Nick is doing that. And it looks like he's gone above and beyond the hustling part up here."

Lesson learned. Change implemented. It's all in the growth of a player.

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Let the record show that on a snowy Friday afternoon 10 days before Christmas 2017, the Phillies ramped up their rebuild.

Dramatically.

What other conclusion can be drawn after the club went out and signed Carlos Santana, one of the best offensive players on the free-agent market? With the signing, confirmed by multiple baseball sources, general manager Matt Klentak has attached a new level of importance to the 2018 season.

Just a couple of days ago at the winter meetings in Orlando, Klentak spoke of how 2018 was going to be a time to "find out" more about the team's young core of players. Who would continue to take a step forward? Who would fall by the wayside?

But now that Santana is here, 2018 doesn't feel like it's just a find-out season. It feels like a season in which the Phillies can continue to find out about players — separate the studs from the duds — and also start nibbling around that second National League wild-card spot.

Sure, a lot has to go right for that to happen.

And one of the things that has to go right is Klentak has to land a starting pitcher to slot in around Aaron Nola and the rest of the staff, which has the look of a bunch of No. 4 and No. 5 starters — until someone steps forward.

Santana's deal is for three years and $60 million, according to sources. Three years is a nice get — i.e., it's not cripplingly long — for a 32-year-old (in April) who hits for power, produces runs and does what Klentak likes best: controls the strike zone. (You could say that Klentak added two players who control the strike zone to his lineup Friday as the trade of Freddy Galvis to San Diego for strike-throwing pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos cleared the way for J.P. Crawford to be the regular shortstop.)

The Phillies need to do everything within reason to make sure that the first of Santana's three seasons with the club isn't about simply inching the rebuild forward. The Nationals are the class of the NL East, but the rest of the division ranges from ordinary to awful. The Phils, with an improved offense and bullpen (Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter), can play with Braves and Mets and clean up on the Marlins, the jewelry store that became a pawnshop, in agent Scott Boras' words.

It's just up to Klentak to get more starting pitching, and he's on the case. He admitted that at the winter meetings. He is particularly fond of young starters with years of control remaining on their contracts. Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer and Michael Fulmer fit this description. It takes talent to get pitchers like that. The Phillies have enough depth of prospects to get one of these guys and their reserves of expendable talent just grew with the Santana signing.

Santana, a switch-hitter who has averaged 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .810 OPS in eight seasons, is going to be the team's primary first baseman. Rhys Hoskins is going to be the primary leftfielder. That means the Phillies suddenly have a young outfielder that they could deal. Maybe they try to capitalize on Nick Williams' strong half-season in the majors and package him for an arm. Or maybe it's Odubel Herrera or Aaron Altherr.

However it plays out, you can be sure that Klentak will be creative. You can rule nothing out with this guy. The other day, we poo-pooed the Phillies signing Jake Arrieta, who is looking for a long-term deal approaching $200 million. But if Arrieta lingers out there until February and is looking for a two-year landing spot, hey, maybe.

We wouldn't even put it past Klentak to entertain the idea of using Santana at third base a little bit — he did play 26 games there in 2014 — and trading Maikel Franco. The Giants were sniffing around, gathering intel on Franco at the winter meetings. There has to be a reason for that. Also at the meetings, an official from a rival club said the Phillies weren't as aggressive as he expected in trying to move Cesar Hernandez. Could it be that Hernandez would get some time at third if Franco were to be moved? Hernandez is still a trade chip, but he doesn't need to be cashed in until July and by that time Scott Kingery should be here.

There are a lot of ways this thing can go. And with the signing of Carlos Santana — which won't become official until he passes a physical next week — the Phillies have guaranteed that the remainder of this offseason will be a busy one.

It has to be.

The stakes have changed for 2018. The rebuild is still in place, but it has been ramped up. Matt Klentak has improved the bullpen and the offense. Now he has to attack that starting pitching and he has the trade weapons to do it.

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

The Phillies' busy Friday continued with a pricey free-agent signing.

The Phils have agreed to a three-year, $60 million deal with former Cleveland Indian Carlos Santana, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury.

It is by far the most expensive contract the Phillies have given out under the Matt Klentak-Andy MacPhail regime.

They had the money. When the offseason began, the only player the Phillies had signed to a multi-million dollar deal was Odubel Herrera.

Santana, 31, has always been a high-walk power hitter. From 2011 through 2017, he walked between 88 and 113 times each season, all while maintaining relatively low strikeout totals for a man with such power and plate selection.

In 2016, Santana set a career high with 34 home runs. Last season, he hit .259/.363/.455 with 37 doubles, 23 homers and 79 RBIs.

This addition provides the Phillies with much-needed pop to protect Rhys Hoskins and also gives the Phils added versatility. Santana is a switch-hitter who came up as a catcher, but he hasn't caught since 2014. The last three seasons, he has played primarily first base. In his eight seasons, Santana has also started 26 games at third base and seven in right field.

The move likely means Hoskins will play left field, and it could facilitate another Phillies trade of an outfielder such as Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr or Odubel Herrera.