The improvements that led the Phillies to call up Nick Williams

The improvements that led the Phillies to call up Nick Williams

Nick Williams' bat speed and athleticism have long enticed scouts and made him a highly-touted prospect. 

At 23, he is neither a complete player nor a finished product, so Phillies fans should temper their expectations as he arrives in the majors this weekend.

But Williams took some real steps forward at Triple A this season, steps he wouldn't have been called up without taking.

Plate selection
This remains the biggest question mark with Williams. Like fellow prospect Jorge Alfaro, Williams is a dynamic player with an exaggerated strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Last season, Williams played 125 games at Triple A and hit .258 with a .287 on-base percentage. He walked 19 times and struck out 136. It was abundantly clear that needed to change.

Williams didn't transform into Joey Votto but he has been taking more pitches lately. He's walked eight times in his last 13 games after walking eight times in his first 65 games this season. 

Earlier in June, Phillies GM Matt Klentak said Williams wasn't far away from the majors and was putting the finishing touches on some things at Triple A. He was clearly referring to Williams' familiarity and knowledge of the strike zone.

This season, Williams has hit .280 with a .328 OBP. Those are respectable enough numbers for a corner outfielder, so long as he can play defense and hit for power.

Some added pop
Williams had a very slow start last season, especially in the power department. Adjusting to cold-weather games in the Lehigh Valley in April was not easy for a Texas kid.

In 527 plate appearances with the IronPigs last season, Williams had 33 doubles, six triples and 13 home runs. 

In 306 plate appearances this season, he has 16 doubles, two triples and 15 home runs. Those 15 homers are two shy of his professional high.

After last season, the Phillies couldn't have been completely confident Williams would develop into an above-average major-league outfielder. Guys who hit .260 with a .290 OBP are not super valuable even if they hit 20 to 25 home runs, especially at offensive positions like left and right field. Heck, Freddy Galvis met those numbers last season while playing Gold Glove defense and he's still a polarizing player.

Nor is an outfielder all that valuable if he lacks power and hits .280 with a .330 OBP. 

But the fact that Williams has improved in all of these phases — hitting more for average, taking more walks, leaving the yard more frequently — has made the Phillies comfortable with this promotion at this time.

Improvement vs. lefties
Williams has held his own against same-handed pitching this season, hitting .250/.294/.375 vs. lefties with three of his 15 home runs.

No, those aren't eye-popping numbers, but his .669 OPS vs. lefties is 98 points higher than it was last season.

Williams was bothered last summer by opposing managers' belief that he could be retired simply by bringing in a lefty.

"I've been seeing lefties a lot better lately," Williams said then. "A lot of them kind of do the same thing to me and that helps. I just want to master, really figure out what I'm trying to do and what they're trying to do to me. I didn't like when [managers] thought I couldn't hit a lefty, and they would call a guy in from the bullpen just to pitch to me. It bothered me, I didn't like that, them thinking it could just take a lefty to get me out. I worked on it, worked on it, and I got better at it, being more patient.

"Breaking balls away, sometimes they try to come in, but usually if they throw me a breaking ball that's a strike, it's a good pitch to hit. There's a couple times you can tip your hat to them for hitting a certain spot, but really, when lefties throw me a breaking ball for a strike, it's a good pitch to hit. Just staying patient and the one that's an inch off, two inches off, just bite your lip and take."

Look for the Phils to get Williams work at multiple outfield spots while he's up. At Triple A this season, he started 37 games in right field, 16 in left field and 10 in center.

Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

USA Today Images

Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

When the news broke that he had been let go as Phillies pitching coach earlier this week, Rick Kranitz's cell phone started dinging.

And dinging.

And dinging.

From all over the country and Latin America, stunned Phillies pitchers sent well wishes.

"I heard from all of them," Kranitz said Friday from his home in Arizona. "It meant a lot. It was nice to know they were thinking of me.

"That's the thing I'm going to miss the most, the relationships I've built with these guys. The players are the ones who do it but I was always happy to be able to guide them through the good times, the tough times, the emotional times. I've been in the game for 40 years and the relationships have always been what means the most to me."

Kranitz, 60, was pushed aside in favor of Chris Young. Kranitz had been with the Phillies for three seasons, first as bullpen coach, then as assistant pitching coach and finally as head pitching coach in 2018. Teams don't typically let coaches go in mid-November, particularly after saying seven weeks earlier that the entire coaching staff would be returning. In this case, Young, 37, had received interest from other clubs and rather than risk losing him the Phillies promoted him from assistant pitching coach to head pitching coach. Kranitz was told that he was free to seek employment with other organizations, though the Phillies will still pay him through 2019.

The whole thing seems cold, but Kranitz is taking the high road. He's a big boy. He's been around — he'd previously been pitching coach in Miami, Baltimore and Milwaukee — and understands the business of baseball and these days the business of baseball is more new school than old school. That doesn't mean it's better. It's just the way it is for now.

"I was surprised and very disappointed when I first got the news," Kranitz said. "I'd built a lot of good relationships with this group. I believe in every one of these guys and I believe the future is bright for the Phillies. I wanted to see it through."

The news that Kranitz had been let go broke on Wednesday. That night, Aaron Nola finished third in the NL Cy Young voting. For three years, Kranitz had been influential in Nola's development.

"I was so proud of that young man," Kranitz said. "He deserves everything he gets. He's a class individual and the Phillies are lucky to have such a special young pitcher — not just a pitcher but a person. I could not have been prouder. I'm thankful to have gotten the chance to watch him, grateful to be able to see special times."

Kranitz began his pro career as a pitcher in the Brewers' system in 1979. He would like to continue to work and surely some team will benefit from his wisdom. But in the meantime, he intends to spend his unexpected free time focusing on the people who have always been there for him, his wife Kelly and their four children.

"We have four grandkids and one on the way in March," Kranitz said. "So I'll be around for the birth and that makes me happy. 

"This game has been great to me. The Phillies were great to me. It didn't end great but my experience with the city and the people in that organization was great. Now it's time to shift my focus to my family and give back to them."

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What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

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What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

Phillies owner John Middleton recently reiterated what he's been saying for years: The Phillies will spend aggressively this offseason.

This time, he was a bit more colorful about it.

"We're going into this expecting to spend money," Middleton told USA Today at the owners meetings this week. "And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.

"We just prefer not to be completely stupid."


You know the usual suspects: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But the Phillies' needs go beyond offense and there is a top-tier left-hander on the market who could boost this rotation (see story).

Harper turned down a $300 million offer from the Nationals, so it's safe to assume he's expecting a deal closer to the $350-400 million range, one with an annual value in the neighborhood of $40 million.

It's hard to gauge where Machado's price tag will be and whether his October comments affected his market. Will he get slightly less than Harper because of it? Will he get more than Harper because of the position(s) he plays?

Including guaranteed contracts, projected arbitration figures and the raises due to pre-arbitration players, the Phillies' 2019 payroll is in the vicinity of $110 million right now. But that figure is cut in half in 2020 and next-to-nothing in 2021, when the only two guaranteed deals on the Phillies' books belong to Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery.

Aaron Nola will have to be paid sometime before 2022, and Rhys Hoskins before 2024, but the Phils still have so much wiggle room. 

Team president Andy MacPhail has been sure to remind Middleton and others that there is baseball to be played beyond 2019. But it's not often a free-agent class has headliners like this. 

The Phils could feasibly afford both Harper and Machado, but things would get extremely tricky down the road when Harper, Machado, Nola and Hoskins are combining to make about $120 million per year between the four of them. Those are the kinds of long-term issues this front office has to consider and will consider.

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