Phillies
USA Today Images

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.