San Francisco Giants Top 10 Prospects
By John Manuel
1. Jerome Williams, rhp
Age: 20.B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HSWaipahu, Hawaii (1st round supplemental), 1999. Signed by: Darren Wittke.
Background: Williams has worn the label of No. 1 prospect in the organization for a year, and he has worn it well through what he and the Giants hope were the worst of times. He pitched the entire season at age 19 at Double-A Shreveport as the youngest player in the Texas League, all while overcoming the death of his mother Deborah. Williams left for spring training in early March, only to return two weeks later to Hawaii for her funeral. His father Glenn, who hasnt been able to work for six years due to neck injuries, urged Williams to stay in Arizona for spring training, but he returned and took time out during the trip to help give pitching lessons to players at Waipahu High, his alma mater. The missed time in the spring meant Williams was working his way into shape during the early part of the season, and it showed. In his first 65 innings, he had a 5.26 ERA, .256 opponent batting average, 10 home runs allowed and a 42-22 strikeout-walk ratio. In his final 65, he had a 2.63 ERA, a .213 opponent average, four homers and a 42-12 strikeout-walk ratio.
Strengths: The Giants love Williams maturity, physically and emotionally. Athletic and coordinated, he pitches at 90-92 mph with a fastball that features good life. When he wants to, he can run his fastball up to 95 mph. Late in the season, he showed the kind of command the Giants were used to. He has tightened the rotation on his slider and improved his curve and changeup. Overcoming his mothers death and finishing the year strong were two more indications of Williams mental toughness, which combined with his stuff makes him a potential No. 1 starter.
Weaknesses: Williams has yet to become a workhorse in pro ball, averaging 128 innings in his two full seasons, and missing spring training forced the Giants to keep him on strict pitch counts early in the season. But he threw a pair of complete games and pitched fewer than six innings just twice in the last three months of the year.
The Future: Williams remains one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. The Giants major league staff is deep enough that Williams need not be rushed. When ready, he figures to be the ace the Giants now lack. Hell begin 2002 at Triple-A Fresno.
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