The Rays are looking for a 25th man for the short side of a platoon in the outfield, meaning they need a competent right-handed bat with preferably plus defense who can help keep the Rays in contention — or at least competitive in the AL East — without blocking the way for future prospects.
The Rays have few internal options in that regard, but Jason Coats, Brandon Snyder, and Johnny Field have yet to emerge with the job, so the Rays will be looking towards optioned or released players outside the organization, and we should too.
Yesterday we looked at the released Melvin Upton Jr, but today I draw your attention to Giants outfield prospect Mac Williamson, who was optioned last night.
Williamson has yet to find consistent playing time in three seasons of the shuttle, and has since been forced farther down the depth chart by Andrew McCutchen, Austin Jackson, and Gorkys Hernández — and now he has top ten prospect Austin Slater to contend with. That’s four right-handed hitting outfielders at the MLB/Triple-A level other than Williamson.
But the Rays don’t need a starter, they need a platoon defender, and the dude can shag a fly.
Here’s one statcast web gem from 2017:
And here’s one in left field, where he’d more likely find time in Tampa Bay:
Williamson has played in just shy of 100 games for the Giants since 2015, appearing in both corners, but primarily in the difficult terrain of San Francisco’s right field. His defensive metrics show a more neutral defender in the majors than Statcast videos convey, but his athleticism and reckless abandon should play up in left field.
The Wake Forest graduate had Tommy John surgery in 2014 but that doesn’t seem to have limited his arm, and better still is his improving swing, which he hopes will finally harness his plus raw power. His strikeout and walk rates across the minors have been acceptable (8% BB, 22% K) and shouldn’t take a huge hit in the majors, particularly if he’s platooned.
In 2017, he held an .800 OPS vLHP, and .683 vRHP at the minor league level. With consistent playing time, you could expect a similar trend in the majors, and maybe something better.
Because the swing has improved.
Williamson has been somewhat famed on the internet this off-season for visiting the same swing posture as Justin Turner, as profiled by NBC Sports’s Alex Pavlovic:
Here’s the key pull from that article:
“He looks good,” said Hensley Meulens, who has moved from hitting coach to bench coach. “You can see the timing getting better and better. A lot of guys are doing that now, seeing their own guys in the offseason. If it’s going to help them it’s going to help us, so I didn’t have a problem with it.”
Williamson worked with Latta in the offseason while simultaneously training in Southern California with Matt Duffy, one of his closest friends. While a Turner-like breakout at some point would be great, he has set the immediate goal far lower. He knows he is likely headed to Triple-A Sacramento given the current outfield mix and the fact that he has one minor league option remaining...
A fun anecdote in here is that trading for Williamson would be another acquisition of a close friend of Matt Duffy (the other being Christian Arroyo). The article does not share video, but when Baseball Prospectus recently highlighted Williamson’s improved swing and plus exit velocity, they included the use of this GIF:
That’s one of the better swings you’ll see from someone who appears to be an org-soldier on the outside looking in.
Williamson will turn 28 this season and the Giants do not seem to have any intention of featuring him, despite the revamped swing and a strong performance in spring training, so this seems like a dude the Rays should be able to get, crazy offseason or not.
The Giants drive a hard bargain in trades, but it’s worth exploring whether the Rays can match up on yet another deal with Bobby Evans.