Justin Williams Eyes Big League Role
When outfielder Justin Williams went to Mexico this offseason, one year removed from a "silly mistake” that put him on the injured list for more than half the 2019 season, the 24-year-old arrived with his gear and one goal.
To stay healthy.
Williams had a reassuring finish to the season at Triple-A Memphis, reasserting himself as a prospect worthy of a 40-man roster spot for the Cardinals just as they started pruning outfielders.
A season that began with a fractured hand because he punched a TV—for "personal” reasons he said—ended with Williams batting .353/.437/.608 in his final 36 games in the Pacific Coast League. He hit seven home runs and did as much for himself as he did for his standing with the organization.
"Just mentally it was good,” Williams said. "I felt more comfortable. I didn’t feel like I need to overdo things. It gives me confidence coming into 2020.”
The Cardinals acquired Williams from the Rays in a swap that sent outfielder Tommy Pham to the Rays. Williams and Genesis Cabrera, the pitcher who came to St. Louis with him, appealed to the Cardinals because they are lefthanded, which was something in short supply for the Cardinals.
Even with three different trades this winter to address the depth of outfielders on the roster, the Cardinals have just two outfielders on the 40-man roster who hit lefthanded, Williams and switch-hitter Dexter Fowler.
That gives Williams an edge as spring training approaches because the Cardinals have spent the past two seasons looking for a lefthanded bat for the bench and a possible platoon role.
To keep his momentum going from August, Williams played in the Mexican Pacific League.
In 31 games for Mexicali, Williams hit .274/.348/.403 with two home runs and shrank his strikeout rate from the previous summer.
"No one wants to walk guys,” Williams said of the MPL games. "It’s like they didn’t give in, in a sense."
— Top prospects Dylan Carlson, newcomer Matthew Liberatore and teenager Nolan Gorman will all be non-roster invites to big league camp. For Gorman and Liberatore it will be their first big league camp. The Cardinals are expanding their roster for spring by folding the Spring Training Early Program (STEP) for top prospects into the major league plan.
— Former farmhand Patrick Elkins has joined manager Mike Shildt’s coaching staff as a liaison for players. His official title will be "major league internal player strategist,” and he’ll be the conduit between the clubhouse and the analytics staff to make the data more user friendly and player responsive.