With the 52nd overall pick of the 2019 MLB Draft, the Blue Jays selected right-handed pitcher Kendall Williams from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida (not far from Dunedin). Originally from Olive Branch, Mississippi, Williams transferred to IMG in early 2017 and is committed to attend Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt signees are frequently considered tough signs, but presumably the Jays would not have made the pick without knowing what it will take to sign Williams, potentially overslot.
MLB Pipeline sums up Williams very well as the “the quintessential projectable high school right-hander”, starting with his 6’6”, 190 pound build. Unusually for a high school pitcher, he’s got quite a pretty broad and (relatively) advanced offspeed reperatoire, which is on display in the video above video from a Perfect Game tournament in March where he showed off a really nice, tight, power curve.
Jays grab Kendall Williams, a high-ceiling prep RHP. Lanky, projectable frame, usually 90-94 mph right now with the FB, CB flashes plus, have seen a plus CH, working with a SL that he shows feel for as well. Like him quite a bit.— Brian Sakowski (@B_Sakowski_PG) June 4, 2019
Kendall Williams is super polished for a prep pitcher with his frame. He's got five pitches. Four-seam, two-seam, CB, SL and CH.— Carlos Collazo (@CarlosACollazo) June 4, 2019
Overall, Williams appears to have the building blocks to be a successful starter. His fastball velocity isn’t overwhelming in today’s game, but it wouldn’t be surprising if a little more came, or he was able to consistently sit at the higher end of the range in the next few years as he fills outs and matures. The power curve definitely has potential as a swing-and-miss secondary weapon, with apparent feel for a change-up and slider (though I didn’t any of those in the videos).
Perfect Game wrote up an early April start at a major tournament, the NHSI in North Carolina:
He worked in a full arsenal of off-speed pitches as well, all of them flashing at least average. The curveball is his preferred breaking ball, thrown in the upper-70s with 12-to-6 to 11-to-5 shape, showing power depth and spin when he’s on top of it. It’s a pitch that could be projected as plus long term. His changeup was actually better than the curveball for a fair amount of his time on the mound, thrown in the 81-84 mph range with outstanding tumbling action and fade to the arm side. He throws the pitch with conviction and trust, and it accounted for a great deal of the swings-and-misses he elicited on this day. There were also flashes of a slider, a pitch he’s been trying to master for a while now and seems to have found a grip that he likes and is comfortable with. It’s not as consistent yet as the rest of the arsenal, but he broke off a couple with sharp tilt and firmer velocity from his curveball.
The video below is from from that start, and unfortunately I don’t see any of the change-ups or sliders in there, I do see what they meant about the curve as it was more of a get-me-over offering than the sharp swing-and-miss offering in the first video.
Ironically, I watched what must be one of his worse outings results-wise in the past few years last June, when he pitched at the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars and got tagged for six earned runs over 3.1 innings. I didn’t take any detailed notes, but I recall being impressed by the fastball/breaking ball combo, he just had some problems locating as well as some plays not made in the field. He was much better throwing 4.1 scoreless a week later in the 18U Trials, which I think I also watched but do not recall with any level of detail.
The Blue Jays have a mixed recent history when it comes to players committed to Vanderbilt. Famously, in 2011, the Blue Jays could not sign Tyler Beede as the 21st overall pick (Marcus Stroman ended up a decent consolation prize), but were able to sign Kevin Comer away who was picked 57th overall in the compensation round for $1.65-million . Four years later (and four years ago), the Jays were able to lure Reggie Pruitt away with a $500,000 bonus as a 24th rounder.
Somewhat relatedly, the Jays were unable to sign the last high school pitcher they drafted in the second round, when Brady Singer ended up going to Florida after they didn’t like something in medical. He’s been perfectly healthy since and just just promoted to AA after being drafted in the first round last year. The compensation pick the Jays received was used to select J.B. Woodman, who is no longer in affiliated baseball.