Cleveland Indians 2021 MLB Draft: Get to know first round pick
The 2021 MLB Draft opened with a few surprises from what was expected. After most mock drafts and projections predicted the top three selections to be high school shortstops, we didn’t see even one taken with any of those three selections. Instead, the Pittsburgh Pirates went catcher, the Texas Rangers took a college pitcher and the Detroit Tigers selected a high school pitcher.
The trend of surprises continued through the night, making for an exciting 2021 MLB Draft flushed with talent. As for the Cleveland Indians, they were also able to add a piece for the future with the 23rd pick of the night, taking right-handed pitcher Gavin Williams out of East Carolina.
In the history of the Tribe there’s been a rather strong track record of taking right-handed starting pitchers in the first round. The list includes Charles Nagy in 1988, Paul Shuey in 1992, Jaret Wright in 1994, Jeremy Guthrie in 2002 and Triston McKenzie in 2015. Now, the Cleveland Indians will hope that Gavin Williams can add his name to the list.
After taking Tanner Burns in the first round of the 2020 MLB Draft out of Auburn, Williams is the second collegiate starting pitcher taken by the Tribe in the first round in as many seasons. Before Burns the last six pitchers taken were from the prep level. Now, Williams joins the Tribe as well.
Turning 22-years old on July 26, Williams was originally selected in the 30th round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. It seems like going to college was the right decision, jumping up to the first round this year.
In his arsenal Williams has a strong curveball and a slider, but his game is paced by a mid-to-high 90s fastball that has been clocked in the triple-digits and averages out around 97 miles per hour. Now, he’s had some injuries in his past and his command will need some work, but there’s a lot of potential and a lot to like about this selection for the Tribe.
While most pitchers taken in the first round by the Cleveland Indians were taken out of high school, the ones with recent and sustained major league success went the college route, like Williams. Shane Bieber was a product of UC Santa Barbara, Aaron Civale came out of Northeastern and Zach Plesac played for Ball State. The hope is that Gavin Williams can follow the path that those three have laid out.
Standing 6-foot-6, Williams appeared in 53 games over three seasons for East Carolina, but three seasons is relative. With the COVID-19 year mixed in, he actually pitched for ECU in 2018, 2019 and 2021. Of those 53 games, he started just 17, but started 12 of his 15 appearances in 2021.
Predominately a starter in 2021, he ended the campaign with a 10-1 record on the mound while maintaining an ERA of 1.88 over 81.1 innings pitched. He also struck out 130 batters, averaging 14.4 strikeouts per nine while walking only 21 batters.
That strong resume was enough to earn Williams an All-American status following the season. He was also a unanimous All-Conference and American Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year, thanks to taking home the pitching triple crown for the conference as well.
While the Cleveland Indians already have nine pitchers on the club’s Top 30 prospects list, this season has been a great reminder that you can never have too many pitchers. The team has had to exhaust a lot of avenues to try and fill out the rotation, possibly pushing the them to invest in more pitchers who could be ready in a short period of time.
With three full seasons of college baseball under his belt, Williams could be a player the team can fast track to the majors if needed. They did exactly that with Bieber, Civale and Plesac out of college, seeing Bieber debut in 2018 and the other two in 2019 about being selected just a few summers earlier in 2016.
Having solid breaking balls in addition to a triple-digits fastball is a great foundation to work with. Hopefully, the Cleveland Indians can flex their pitching factory muscles and get Williams to the majors in a few years to join the Big Three. As of right now, he’s another player with a lot of potential that should intrigue fans to follow him through the minors.