By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com
Believe it or not, Nick Williams is actually feeling a tiny bit down this week.
The seventh-ranked Rangers prospect went 1-for-2 with an RBI and a run scored for the U.S. team in the Futures Game on Sunday, then had to return to business as usual.
“I don’t know, it’s kind of sad, going right back to the Minor League grind, riding the bus, the bad food,” he said. “[The Futures Game] was a fun experience. It’s like the All-Star break but way better.”
Opposing pitchers can’t be thrilled to have him back in the Texas League, either.
Williams went 3-for-5 with a pair of homers and a stolen base on Thursday night as Double-A Frisco one-hit visiting Corpus Christi in a 7-0 victory.
“Nick is a quality hitter. He’s was been way more selective this year than before,” RoughRiders manager Joe Mikulik said. “His walks are up to a career high; he’s nearing 30 and his career high was 19. Also, he’s showing power as well — that’s a good combo. He has the ability to hit. That’s been his forte ever since we drafted him. When he’s locked in and focused, he really sees the ball.”
Before his trip to Cincinnati, the 21-year-old outfielder went 7-for-7 with a homer in a doubleheader. And since July 7, he’s slashing .619/.652/1.143 to lead all of Minor Leaguers during that span in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging.
Williams, who’s batting .299 on the year, got into his groove by relaxing at the dish.
“Just being patient, waiting for my pitch,” he said. “If I don’t get it, try to see something else I can handle and let my hands work everything out. Be less aggressive and just have a natural reaction.”
That approach allowed the left-handed hitting Texan to hit both of his homers the other way.
“He showed some opposite-field power and off a lefty [Hooks starter Brian Holmes] and off of [Juan] Minaya, who throws 95, 96,” Mikulik noted.
Leading off the game, Williams fell behind Holmes, 2-1, but turned the tables on the next pitch.
“It was a fastball,” he said. “I didn’t think he was going to throw me [a fastball], but he did, middle-in, and I pulled my hands back and hit it the other way.”
Against Minaya in the fourth, Williams was first-pitch swinging.
“The guy was throwing 95,” he said. “I said, ‘Man, I’m going to be ready to hit.’ I take the first pitch a lot, but I was like, ‘If he throws a good first pitch to hit, I’m going to put a good, hard swing on it.’ He threw me the fastball and I got good results.”
Between the homers, the 2012 second-round pick singled off Holmes and stole second. He was excited to be able to showcase both his power and speed over the course of a couple innings.
“Especially with the stolen bag off a lefty. That was the best part,” he said. “He wasn’t looking at me, paying me no attention, not picking over or anything. I didn’t know much about him, I thought I’d probably just stay. But I was feeding off him with my lead and he wouldn’t acknowledge me. That was a good time to run.”
The RoughRiders also got a dazzling performance out of Rangers No. 19 prospect Jose Leclerc, a 21-year-old right-hander who’s converting from a reliever to a starter this season. After throwing six shutout innings on July 10, Leclerc gave up a single and five walks over 5 2/3 frames against the Hooks.
“There were the five walks he had — he threw a lot of balls — but when he was in the zone, he was great,” Mikulik said. “He threw a plus changeup. That’s what kept them off-balance, and I saw a couple 93s and 94s [on his fastball]. I’ve seen him hit 96 before, but I don’t know if he threw that tonight.
“His ability to throw strikes with fastballs sets everything up. He mixes his pitches very well. We do wish he would command his fastball better and throw more strikes.”
Leclerc took a no-hitter into the sixth before Chan Moon led off with a single up the middle. After recording two outs in the air, Leclerc’s night was over.
“He probably could have finished [the sixth], but he threw 86 pitches and we thought that was enough. He definitely keeps improving every start,” Mikulik said.
Cody Ege took over and worked around a one-out walk to get through the seventh. Chad James, who was suspended for 50 games in January and for 25 games in June, made his season and Double-A debut by striking out two and walking two over the final two frames.
“Ege’s been very effective for us. He’s not overpowering, but he throws lots of strikes. He’s tough on lefties and changes speeds very well. He’s not afraid of hitters,” Mikulik said. “James comes in for his first time for us, he comes out and throws two scoreless innings.”
Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.