Cleveland Indians: What are experts saying about Gavin Williams?

Cleveland Indians

Progressive Field home of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

What are experts saying about Cleveland Indians first round pick Gavin Williams?

With the 23rd overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, the Cleveland Indians selected right-handed pitcher Gavin Williams from East Carolina. Williams is the second consecutive collegiate pitcher taken by the Tribe in the first round after selecting Tanner Burns during the 2020 MLB Draft. Williams will now have the opportunity to join a minor league system known for producing pitchers.

We’ve already been able to get to know Williams, but what are people around the game of baseball saying about both the prospect and the pick? Follow along as we go from expert to expert and dissect what is being said about the newest member of the Cleveland Indians.

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MLB.com Draft Tracker Profile

Williams had one of the most projectable fastballs in the 2017 high school class, reaching 95 mph as a lanky 6-foot-6 North Carolinian, and he hit 100 mph as an East Carolina freshman after turning down the Rays as a 30th-rounder. But he never could claim a regular rotation spot in his first three years with the Pirates and pitched just three innings while dealing with a finger injury during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, after which he declined some Draft overtures. Just when he was getting pegged as a hard-throwing reliever who lacked feel for spin, he broke out this spring, earning American Athletic Conference pitcher of the year honors, ranking fifth in NCAA Division I in strikeout rate (14.4 per nine innings) and holding his own in a super-regional duel with Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker. A potential first-round pick, Williams still offers plenty of fastball velocity and can approach triple digits while holding 94-97 mph for several innings as a starter. His upper-70s curveball suddenly has more power and more consistent shape with some eye-popping metrics, and his previously lackluster slider is now an average mid-80s offering that shows flashes of becoming solid. He has continued to display aptitude for a mid-80s changeup, giving him a deep mix of pitches. Strong and athletic, Williams has cleaned up his delivery during his time in college but didn’t provide consistent strikes until this year. He looked good in the fall of 2019 and scouts thought he was trending upward before he broke the ring finger on his pitching hand during a rundown drill. His breakthrough has come a year later and he’s making a convincing argument that he could be a mid-rotation starter.

Right from the start we get some mixed reviews on where Williams will land in terms of role. He’s been both a reliever and a starter at East Carolina and could see either become his spot in the professional ranks. However, one thing that sticks out from this is Williams’ growth.

It talks about how his curveball all of sudden improved greatly, both in velocity and movement. The same is said for his slider that went from just another pitcher to an effective one. Throw in his changeup and a high-90s fastball that can crack 100 miles per hour and he has an arsenal that is capable of starting in the majors. The key will be getting him ready and keeping him healthy.

ESPN Draft Tracker Profile

Who is Williams? A finger injury limited Williams to just three innings in 2020, so he returned to East Carolina for his senior season and the velocity he has showcased since he was in high school finally turned into results as he went 10-1 with a 1.88 ERA and 130 K’s in 81.1 innings, while walking just 21. He’s a huge righty at 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, sits in the mid-90s and has hit 101. His curveball was his best secondary offering and he also mixed in a slider and changeup, giving him four-pitch potential.

Why the Indians took him here: This is a bit of a twist because eight of Cleveland’s past nine first-round picks have been high schoolers, but as Peterson alluded to during the broadcast, Williams went toe-to-toe with Rocker during the NCAA regional and arguably looked more impressive. Put him in Cleveland’s developmental system and you have to like how this selection might work out. — Schoenfield

Again, we read about Williams having a strong four-pitch arsenal as well as being a late bloomer, especially in terms of velocity. We also get the analysis on the injury again. Much of the reason that Williams fell to the Cleveland Indians in this draft was because of his finger injury in 2020 and another injury that shut him down during the 2018 summer. Hopefully, those are in the past and he can continue to hone his craft, like he exhibited in 2019.

The other part of this excerpt is that we get a taste of the potential that Williams brings to the organization. Schoenfield is exactly right. The Tribe pick high school players in the first round. That’s the “model.” However, they think highly enough of Williams to go in a different direction this year.

On top of that, the developmental system that is alluded to might be one of the best in the league. When you look at all the talent the Tribe’s minor league system has turned out, specifically pitchers, it’s rather incredible. This year has been a bit of a bump with the injuries forcing players up a bit too soon, but Williams will be in good hands after having a breakout season at East Carolina in terms of development.

PrimeTime Sports Talk

Pro Comparison: Lance Lynn
When Lynn came out of the Univerity of Mississippi he was strictly a fastball-curveball pitcher who sat around 95 with his heater and 78 with the curve. He made it work with good control and solid command. Williams is a similar pitcher with a similar build and probably throws a little harder than Lynn. The White Sox starter was selected 39th overall in 2008 by the St. Louis Cardinals and I expect Williams to be taken in that same vicinity in July.

You can find the full scouting report by PrimeTime Sports Talk here, but the comparison for Gavin Williams is promising for the future of the prospect. Lynn took some time to settle in as a starter in the majors, as Williams did in college, but the skill set is very similar.

If Williams turns out like Lynn, that could be really good for the Tribe. Lynn broke into the majors just three years after being drafted and played rather well early in his career. He kept his ERA below 4.00 each of his first six major league seasons and was rather effective. Lynn had some bumps, but has been revived this season, posting an American League-best 1.99 ERA in the first half of the season.

Should Williams follow the same track as Lynn, that would be just fine for the Cleveland Indians. That puts his arrival in Cleveland for 2024, which would fit the timeline that the club has laid out to refresh their starting rotation over time.

Summary

There’s going to be more that comes out on Gavin Williams as we get some distance from the draft and see him in action in the minors. As of right now, there’s a decent chance that the Cleveland Indians landed a steal here.

Williams has work to do, but the foundation is absolutely there. He has a solid arsenal of pitches that give a lot of options to work through. Throw in his jump in production from the last season and the “Cleveland Pitching Factory” has to be chomping at the bit to get their hands on him and begin molding him into the club’s next top pitching prospect.