BRADENTON, FL. – The Pirates acquired Trevor Williams this off-season in a lopsided trade with the Miami Marlins. The trade was lopsided for a reason, as it was compensation for losing Jim Benedict.
Typically, when the Pirates add a new player, they have a no-touch policy, where they just evaluate those players and see what needs to be changed, if anything needs to change at all. For minor leaguers, this period is longer, and that can be difficult when you’re traded during the off-season.
The Pirates had seen Williams in the past when he threw against their minor league affiliates, and Altoona pitching coach Justin Meccage worked with him directly in the Arizona Fall League after the trade. Williams also sent Ray Searage video of his bullpen sessions over the off-season, so the pitching coaches could get more familiar with where he was at heading into the year. But for now, the Pirates are still mostly in that evaluation period with Williams.
This isn’t to say that Williams has nothing to work on. At this point in camp they are making some small tweaks, but nothing drastic. The biggest focus with his mechanics is just getting him back on track and capable of repeating his mechanics. But that’s due to the time of the year, rather than a specific issue with Williams.
“This time of the year, that’s the first thing you need to do is repeat your mechanics,” Williams said. “You take so much time off, even though this year was condensed with the Fall League, you still take a lot of time off from the mound. You just need to get your feet back under you, coming out early. That’s why pitchers and catchers report first.”
The bigger focus for Williams right now is improving his slider. Last year, the Marlins had him focusing on improving the curveball. Despite that focus, he still remains without an out pitch that can get swings and misses. In my trip to the AFL, I gathered that the Pirates liked the slider better. This was confirmed when I talked with Williams, who said that this will be the pitch he wants to develop for strikeouts.
“They’re two different pitches for me. My curveball I don’t think will ever be a strikeout pitch for me,” Williams said. “Everything I throw is hard. A hard fastball, a hard slider. My changeup is slow, but it’s the same plane. If you throw a slower curveball for a strike, it gets their timing off, it throws their eyes off. Just to have that in my back pocket and throw the curveball whenever I want to. The slider development is the strikeout pitch that I want to have in the future. That’s what we’re working on. That’s main goal number one, and then just curveball command.”
Williams will still throw both pitches, but the curve seems like it will have more of a situational use. It’s a slurve, working in the low-to-mid 80s, and giving separation from his fastballs. His four-seam can work in the mid-90s, and the sinker that he mostly relies on sits 89-92 MPH. As seen in the video I posted this weekend, his pitches have a ton of movement on them, and his arm action gives some deception. He also throws a slower changeup, which is his go-to off-speed pitch right now, and the one he considers his best offering.
“My changeup has always been a big speed difference. It’s always been my best off-speed pitch, especially working behind my two-seam,” Williams said. “They look at very similar spin and very similar trajectory. So that’s always my go-to number two pitch, is my sinker and then changeup. That, really, is just keeping the arm speed. Your grip will do what you want it to do, but the arm speed is what sells it to the hitter. You could throw it five miles an hour less, and if the arm speed looks like a fastball, then you still get swings out of it.”
Even though he’s comfortable with the changeup, and has success with the pitch, he will still need the slider to become an out pitch in order to become more than a Jared Hughes type reliever who comes in exclusively for ground ball outs. The slider is what Williams calls a glorified cutter. He threw a cutter in the past, but it didn’t work for him, so he made a switch to a traditional slider.
“It gets my arm action off,” Williams said of the cutter. “It’s kind of weird, it makes me shorten up. I threw it for one year, and I had some success with it, and then [I just threw] my slider and used that as my out pitch.”
The slider he throws now is a traditional grip, but just thrown harder. Williams said that the pitch is developing fine, but that it’s a feel pitch and he needs to work on consistently finding the release point and repeating it.
“It’s throwing it with the fastball conviction and trusting your grip,” Williams said. “The grip will do what I want it to do if I throw it like a fastball, and if I don’t throw it like a fastball, then it gets hit really hard. For me, personally, it’s just holding on to the ball just a hair longer than I should. For me, that works. For other people, it’s wrist movement, spinning it out in front. It’s different for everyone.”
As I wrote on Sunday, the Pirates have a lot of starting pitching depth in Triple-A. Williams is the back-end of that depth, needing a lot to go wrong in order to arrive in the rotation in 2016. He’s also a candidate to move down to Altoona at the start of the season if Kyle Lobstein opens the year in Indianapolis as early season rotation depth. But Williams will arrive in Indianapolis at some point this season, and has a future in Pittsburgh. Whether that’s as a starter or a reliever remains to be seen, and might be out of his control, considering the amount of internal options the Pirates have. One thing that could help his bid for a future starter role would be improving the slider, and becoming more than a guy who relies on a sinker, control, and deception.