The 2021 MLB Draft begins on July 11, 2021, and unlike in 2020, this will be a twenty round draft — shorter than the forty rounds the draft has been in the most recent years prior to 2020, but longer than last year’s five round version. The Rangers’ top three picks are at #2, #38, and #73.
In the coming days, we will be doing write-ups of potential Texas Ranger draft picks, looking both at players who are in the mix at #2 and players who would be candidates to be picked in the second or third rounds. Today we are looking at a righthanded pitcher from East Carolina University, Gavin Williams.
Gavin Williams is a 6’6” righthanded pitcher who is listed from 238 lbs. to 255 lbs. This is Williams’ third time being draft eligible. He was BA’s #120 prospect in the 2017 draft coming out of Cape Fear High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina, though he dropped due to bonus demands, and was selected in the 30th round by the Tampa Bay Rays. Williams was draft-eligible in 2020, as well, and was ranked #81 on BA’s board, but bonus demands again scared teams off, and he went undrafted.
The decision to return to school has paid off. After being mostly a reliever his first three years at East Carolina, with a disappointing sophomore campaign and a truncated junior season due to the pandemic, Williams has had a breakout 2021 season. Williams has put up a 1.88 ERA in 81.1 IP, striking out 130 of 330 batters he has faced and walking just 21 (though with 10 HBPs). His stock has gone up significantly, to where he is a potential late first round pick.
Williams throws very hard — he can touch 100 mph with his fastball, and reports have him generally sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball as a starter, with an above-average spin rate. Both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline put a 70 grade on his fastball, and that is far and away his best pitch.
Williams has risen on boards this year due to improvements in his secondaries and command. Williams throws both a slider and a curveball, and both pitches have improved this year, though the curveball appears to be the stronger of the two pitches. His changeup lags his other pitches, with reports indicating that there’s some potential there but it is still very much a work in progress, and BA noting he has trouble locating it.
Williams took a significant stride forward with his control this spring, cutting his walk rate from his first three years in half. There is still work to be done on his command, but the delivery gets good marks, and there’s some optimism that he can tighten that up. Williams also has missed time due to injuries, including a forearm strain in 2018, which raises durability concerns.
Williams has the build and delivery to be a starting pitcher, and the step forward he has made in 2020 has evaluators more optimistic that he can stick in a starter’s role, which has led to his moving up boards. If he doesn’t significantly improve his changeup, it will make it more of an uphill battle to be a rotation piece going forward, but the fastball/breaking ball combo project to play in a major league pen.
Baseball America has Williams at #30 on their current top 500 draft list. MLB Pipeline has Williams at #31 on their board. Over at ESPN Kiley McDaniel has Williams at #64 on his current board. Fangraphs has Williams ranked #19 on their board. Keith Law has Williams slotted at #54 in his rankings.
Jonathan Mayo has Williams going to the Minnesota Twins at #26 in his latest mock draft. Jim Callis’s latest mock draft has Williams going at #28 to the Tampa Bay Rays, and also mentions him with the Twins, the New York Yankees at #20, and the Cleveland Indians at #23. Kiley McDaniel doesn’t have Williams going in the first round in his most recent mock draft, citing Williams’ medical history as a factor that would keep him from going that high. BA has Williams going at #24 to the Atlanta Braves in their latest mock, also mentioning him as a possibility at #21 to the Chicago Cubs. Fangraphs has Williams going to the Milwaukee Brewers at #33 in their latest mock draft, and also mentions him as in play with the Yankees, Rays, and (at #32) the Detroit Tigers. Keith Law doesn’t have Williams in his most recent mock.
Williams has a late July birthday, so he was one of the younger draft-eligible college juniors in 2020. He’s now older than the top college juniors in this draft, and a team that grabs him is getting a pitcher who will be 22 and physically pretty much fully developed. To the extent there is projection remaining it is in his ability to tighten up his command and improve his ability to spin a breaking ball.
Williams technically has a year of eligibility remaining due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in all players getting an extra year. Nonetheless, given his age and having spent four years at ECU, the odds that he returns to school appear slim — he went back for 2021 in the belief he could improve his stock, and he has. He could theoretically ask for a high enough number that teams pass on him or he refuses to sign and returns for a fifth year at ECU, but that is a pretty significant gamble, particularly since after 2022 he would have exhausted his eligibility and would lose all leverage of returning to school.
As a result, Williams, like Robert Gasser, could well go higher than would be expected, with a team snagging him in order to sign him to a below slot deal due to his relative lack of leverage. That means Williams could well be gone when the Rangers pick at #38 — and I’d go so far as to say its more likely than not Williams is off the board when the Rangers’ are up in the second round. If he is still on the board, though, he’s someone the Rangers could grab.