Chicago Cubs Online’s post-season minor league awards continue today with the Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Myrtle Beach utility player Chesny Young was named the CCO Minor League Player of the Year earlier this week.
Although there was some excellent pitching at all levels, there was one that stood head and shoulders above the rest, completing an odyssey from obscurity to stardom.
The CCO Minor League Pitcher of the Year – RHP Ryan Williams
When Chicago Cubs Online first met Ryan Williams at the South Bend Cubs media day in April, the quiet, unassuming right-hander did not give much of an impression of what was to come. “I’m mainly a sinkerball pitcher. It’s great to get back playing” were the modest quotes given by Williams. Little did anyone know how far that would take him in 2015.
Drafted by the Cubs in the 10th round in 2014 out of East Carolina University, Williams was such an obscure relief pitcher that national scouting services didn’t even have a full report on his pitch repertoire. Williams was first team All-Conference with the Pirates, going 11-3 with seven saves, a 1.81 ERA, 76 strikeouts with just 11 walks in 99.2 innings. After signing with the Cubs, Williams made 11 appearances, all in relief, between the AZL Cubs in the Rookie League and Short Season-A Boise. The combined 2014 totals for Williams was a 2-1 record with one save, a 1.35 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 29 strikeouts in 26.2 innings.
The 23-year old didn’t even start in his first appearance this season, but that quickly changed. Taking the mound for South Bend, Williams was virtually untouchable in the Midwest League. Williams began the season 4-1 with a 1.17 ERA (7 ER/53.2 IP) in nine games (eight starts) with South Bend. Williams struck out 37 batters compared to two walks and held the opposition to a .190 batting average and a .461 OPS. His ERA and opponent batting average are both second-lowest in the Midwest League. For this, Williams was named organizational Pitcher of the Month for May.
South Bend Cubs broadcaster Darin Pritchett had this to say about Williams:
“Williams has great character off the field. On the field he uses his 2-seam fastball to record ground ball after ground ball. One game this year he recorded 17 ground ball outs. I appreciate how he pounds the strike zone and lets his defense take care of the rest.”
In June, Williams received a surprise promotion to Double-A Tennessee. Usually, players are not skipped a level in their development, unless they are filling a temporary need. Whether that was the case or not for Williams, no one is certain. If it was unplanned, Williams made the organization rethink their position quickly.
Williams certainly did not look out of place in the Southern League, going 3-0 with a 2.30 ERA in his first five starts with the Smokies. From there, Williams became a force for Tennessee as he went 10-2 in 17 games (16 starts) with a 2.76 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. For this, Williams was named Southern League Pitcher of the Week (Aug. 10-16). Overall, Williams was 14-3 in 26 games, 24 starts, with a 2.16 ERA and 0.90 WHIP that included 98 strikeouts in 141.2 innings.
With Williams no longer a mystery, the scouting reports started to flow in. Insiders compare the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder to current Giant Tim Hudson. A student of the game and known as “very tactical,” Williams is very economical and pounds the strike zone. Williams uses his low-90s fastball with downward movement, along with a splitter and slider, to induce plenty of ground balls. Pitching to contact, Williams keeps his pitch counts low and is excellent with both changing speeds and location. Williams also is very good at making in-game adjustments and is not afraid to pitch inside.
As usual, there were other pitchers with noteworthy performances this past season. Iowa Cubs starter Carlos Pimentel ended up second in the Pacific Coast League with a 2.95 ERA, was third with 118 strikeouts, and eighth with a 1.319 WHIP while going 12-6. Myrtle Beach starter Jonathan Martinez wound up first in the Carolina League in both ERA (2.56) and WHIP (0.940), and he went 9-2 with 66 strikeouts in 116 innings. Teammate Brad Markey exceeded all expectations by going 7-0 with a 1.61 ERA, 0.821 WHIP, and 63 strikeouts in 84 innings between the Pelicans and South Bend. P.J. Francescon was second in the Southern League and tied for the organizational lead with 22 saves. Francescon went a combined 4-2 and had a 1.47 ERA, 1.027 WHIP, and 57 strikeouts in 61.1 innings with both Tennessee and Iowa.
Saturday: The CCO’s Short-Season Player and Pitcher of the Year