According to Baseball America, the Pittsburgh Pirates have signed catcher Jackson Williams to a minor league contract. The 30-year-old backstop has played parts of two seasons in the majors, getting seven games each with the 2014 Colorado Rockies and the 2015 San Francisco Giants.
Williams split the 2016 season between Double-A and Triple-A for the Rockies, re-signing with the club after spending one season with the Giants. He was originally drafted 43rd overall in the 2007 draft by the Giants and spent his first seven seasons in their system. He signed with the Rockies in 2014, then was lost after the season on waivers to the Los Angeles Angels, who sold him back to the Giants during Spring Training of 2015. Williams hit .199/.265/.263 last season.
While he has a career slash line of .222/.305/.324 in ten minor league seasons, he’s strong enough defensively that it got him to the majors. The Pirates value strong defense behind the plate, and a veteran catcher like Williams could be valuable to the young pitchers in the system. Baseball America voted him the best defensive catcher in the Giants’ system three years (2007-08, 2010) and he was also named the best defensive catcher for the Eastern League in 2009 and the Pacific Coast League in 2010. He was called Gold Glove-caliber, with a quick release, strong arm, excellent blocking and game calling skills. He also works well with pitchers. Williams has thrown out 36% of base stealers during his career. The lack of recognition since 2010 is more a reflection of his prospect status slipping, rather than diminishing defensive skills.
The Pirates recently signed two minor league catchers out of independent ball, so they seem to be filling out their system after trading Reese McGuire and Taylor Gushue a few months ago, and cutting Eric Fryer last month. After looking like they had the exact number of catchers needed for the top four levels (Pirates down to Bradenton), they now have added some depth in case of injury.
Williams will likely receive a non-roster invitation to Spring Training and he should fill in at Indianapolis or Altoona, wherever he is needed. If we see him in the majors, it will probably mean there has been a couple injuries. The bat isn’t Major League quality, but the defensive skills would make him a serviceable short-term backup.
UPDATE 11:13 AM: Just talked to Williams and he confirmed that he received a Spring Training invite. He also said that he will be at the winter mini-camp next week.