Dave Brundage

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.

Dusty Wathan to manage Phillies’ prospect-laden Triple A club in 2017

Dusty Wathan to manage Phillies’ prospect-laden Triple A club in 2017

Change has been the overriding theme of all things Phillies over the last year couple of years.
 
Changes have stretched from the executive level to the dugout to the playing field and the amateur scouting staff.
 
Now it has come to the player-development staff.
 
Dusty Wathan, who managed at Double A Reading the last five seasons, will manage the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs in 2017. He will replace Dave Brundage, whose contract was not renewed after four seasons on the job (see story).
 
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak made an impromptu announcement of Wathan’s promotion as he spoke with reporters in the dugout before Thursday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
 
Wathan’s promotion is well deserved. The 43-year-old son of former Kansas City Royals catcher and skipper John Wathan was the Eastern League’s manager of the year the last two seasons. His most recent clubs were stocked with prospects. His 2016 team finished with the second-best record in all of minor-league baseball. He will oversee another prospect-laden club at Triple A in 2017.
 
“I’m very thankful and excited for the opportunity,” said Wathan, who has joined the Phillies' coaching staff for the remainder of the big-league season.
 
“It’s all about the players, ultimately. I don’t like to take a lot of credit for a lot of things because if you have good players, you end up being a good manager. It’s satisfying to be able to be recognized by the organization and that they have enough confidence in me to go to the next level and help mold some of these guys and get them ready to be here.”
 
Next year’s Triple A club will feature prospects such as shortstop J.P. Crawford, first baseman Rhys Hoskins and outfielders Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens, among others. Crawford and Williams will be holdovers who could make the jump to the majors at some point in 2017. It’s possible that outfielder Roman Quinn and catcher Jorge Alfaro, both currently in the majors for a September look, could be at Lehigh Valley, as well, at the start of next season.
 
Klentak said managing at Triple A was the toughest job in player development because the blend of older veterans and young prospects requires some deft balancing from the skipper.
 
Wathan is ready for the challenge. The former catcher played just three games in the majors (with Kansas City in 2002) during a professional career that lasted 14 seasons. He played eight seasons in Triple A, including two with the Phillies.
 
“I think it will be a unique situation next year just because we’ll have so many guys that came through the system, so many guys that have already played for me,” Wathan said. “It won’t be like a lot of ‘typical Triple A teams’ where we’re going to have a lot of free-agent guys that aren’t happy with the situation. We’re going to have a bunch of guys that have come through the system and are excited to try and get here. In that sense it will be unique to most Triple A teams.
 
“I don’t take this move lightly. It’s an important step, the place to finish these guys and get them ready for Philadelphia. It might be the most important step. The first day they walk on the field as a professional is a real important step, those first couple months, to establish a routine for them and to let them figure out what’s going on. But then also at the very end, to polish them at the end and make sure that they’re ready when they come here and they walk into Pete Mackanin’s office and they’re ready to go help win a ballgame.”
 
There could be more organizational changes in the coming weeks. Recently, the Phillies have fired three scouts, including the No. 2 man, from the amateur scouting staff (see story). Klentak came on board 11 months ago, preceded by new club president Andy MacPhail. It’s not uncommon for a new administration to make changes as it becomes more familiar with an organization.

Phillies won't retain AAA manager Dave Brundage; outfielder Joey Curletta completes Carlos Ruiz trade

Phillies won't retain AAA manager Dave Brundage; outfielder Joey Curletta completes Carlos Ruiz trade

The Phillies will not renew the contract of Triple A manager Dave Brundage, a source tells CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury on Thursday.

The move was first reported by The Morning Call

Brundage will be replaced by Double A Reading manager Dusty Wathan, leaving the Fightin Phils' job vacant.

Brundage has been the Lehigh Valley manager since 2013, taking over for Ryne Sandberg. The timing is somewhat odd considering he finished this season 85-58 and led the IronPigs to a playoff appearance. It's worth noting, however, that Brundage was hired by the previous regime.

This isn't the first shakeup for Matt Klentak and company. They recently fired three longtime members of their scouting department as director of amateur scouting Johnny Almaraz puts his stamp on the organization.

A former fourth-round pick of the Phillies in 1986, Brundage was with the Braves' organization from 2007 through 2012.  He leaves the IronPigs as their longest-tenured manager, finishing with a career record of 286-292.

Ruiz trade complete
The trade that sent Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers is now complete. The player to be named later in the deal is 22-year-old outfielder Joey Curletta.

The right-handed hitting Curletta was a sixth-round pick of the Dodgers out of high school in 2012. Splitting time between High A and Double A, Curletta hit .251 with 17 homers and 67 RBIs this season.