When the Astros took Brady Rodgers in the 3rd round in 2012, Arizona State felt comfortable turning to 6'3", 230-pound Trevor Williams to take over their Friday night duties. And why not? Williams went 12-2 with a 2.05 ERA as a starter in 2012, and posted a list of accomplishments that included First Team All-Pac 12 (one of only four sophomores to earn the honor), Pac-12's only 12-game winner (tied for first in Division I), Collegiate Baseball Louisville Slugger Second Team All-American, and had the second-most strikeouts (59) on ASU's staff, and the fewest walks (13) among pitchers with at least 35 innings pitched.
His stuff is solid: A fastball in the low-to-mid 90s that he locates as well as any pitcher in this draft class, accentuated with a baby slider that he locates well, a 12-to-6 curve that isn't quite as good as his other offerings, and a changeup that could well become a plus pitch. His secondary offerings are at least average, and he throws them all for strikes, issuing just 19 walks through 149.1 innings in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined.
Williams is solid. He's safe. He's durable. He's effective. He's consistent. He's exactly the sort of pitcher that could fly through the minors and end up helping a big league club within a couple of years. So what's the catch? It's the one thing you hear over and over when you discuss Trevor Williams: For someone with such a varied repertoire, who throws so many strikes, he's shown a maddening lack of ability to miss bats - just 94 strikeouts through his 2012 campaign.
It's not a fluke. In fact, the word to use isn't even inability. Williams doesn't try to miss bats. He works fast and pitches to contact; it's a key part of his approach. He throws his fastball early and gets outs quickly. And it's proven remarkably efficient and effective through his collegiate career, the Cape Cod league, and in his tenure with Team USA.
Update: Williams continued to not miss bats during his junior campaign, going 5-6 with a 3.92 ERA, 71 strikeouts and 20 walks over 98.2 innings. He struggled as ASU's #1 starter, out-pitched by freshman rotation-mate Ryan Kellogg.
The .281 batting average opposing hitters have put against Williams isn't surprising - a pitcher who generates a lot of ground balls is not going to have a very fun time on the mound against college hitting.
A solid four-pitch arsenal should keep Williams out of the bullpen. With normal development through the minors, he should be able to compete for the back end of a rotation within a few years.
There is a possibility that Williams could still find a little more velocity on his fastball, refine his secondary offerings, and become a strikeout pitcher, which would certainly elevate his status. He's certainly shown flashes early this season (7.0 IP, 8 K, 1 BB, 3 H, 0 ER @ Tennessee, for instance), but given the results he's already getting with his current approach, it seems unlikely that he's about to re-invent himself.
Update: Again, Williams was exactly the pitcher everyone thought he would be. His style of pitching is much better suited to pro ball, but he will probably continue to struggle in the low minors, getting better as he goes through the ranks and has better infield defense behind him.
Projected Draft Round
The major outlets list Williams as follows: Keith Law (12), Baseball America (38), MLB.com (28), Minor League Ball (39). His collegiate resume should keep him in the first round of the MLB Draft in June. In a worst-case scenario, the fact that he can move through a system quickly and provide help almost immediately should keep him from falling past the top half of the second round.
Update: Baseball America dropped Williams down to #75, which puts him squarely in the third round. I'm not convinced he'll last that long, but he's still a second rounder at best.
Will He Sign?
It seems likely that Williams would sign, particularly if he is drafted in the first round. Unless he were to re-invent himself as a strikeout pitcher (which is unlikely), there isn't much for him to prove in college, and he's unlikely to profile as an elite pitcher and improve his stock.
Honoring his commitment in the summer of 2012, Williams made two appearances in the Cape League before heading off to Team USA. Williams wore #34 in honor of his teammate and roommate, Cory Hahn, who had plans to play in the Cape League before being injured at ASU. Williams' gesture made sure Hahn finally made it to the Cape.
From a scouting perspective, Williams has the control that a lot of collegiate pitchers lack. His repertoire includes his fastball that sits in the low 90s in addition to a slider, curve and changeup. Williams is a very efficient pitcher that locates his pitches extremely well. His proven success in both starting and relief roles also gives an added dimension to him as a pitching prospect. As the Friday starter for ASU in the 2013 season, Williams is one of the top players to watch for.