Sam Williams is not highly-regarded in a profound San Diego Padres’ farm system, but that is perfectly fine with him. The undrafted left-handed pitcher has a lot to prove in 2020.
A brother’s love and backyard baseball. It is the little things in life that guide young players in their grind through professional baseball. For San Diego Padres’ left-handed pitching prospect Sam Williams, the last nine months have been special.
There are several pitchers in the San Diego Padres’ minor league system that are unheralded for one reason or another. Some started their careers quietly and only recently started to bloom and showcase their skills. Other men were low draft picks with not much expectation placed on their potential in the game. Then there are players like Sam Williams, who go entirely undrafted, and can only hope to one day achieve their longshot goal of major league service time. Eric Yardley achieved that goal in 2019 for the Padres, and it can happen for those who “grind” it out.
Things have never been easy for Williams as he battled for playing time early in his collegiate career. The native of Ohio went undrafted out of high school and ended up attending Eastern Kentucky University. In his first taste of collegiate life, Williams struggled for playing time during his two years at the school. Eastern Kentucky went through a coaching change that resulted in limited playing time for the hurler. There was a bit of frustration from the pitcher who only wanted a chance to showcase his skills.
Frustration boiled over to terror as the pitcher underwent Tommy John surgery in August of 2016. At the age of 20, it looked like his baseball career might be over. This was a tough time for the pitcher, but he worked hard to follow his passion for the sport. The competitive spirit which he attributes from his older brother served him well in his quest to regain arm strength and once again play the sport he loved.
At the age of 22, Williams found another opportunity to play in college as he attended Northern Kentucky University for the 2018 season. The baseball program welcomed Williams and allowed him to grind through his bumps on the mound in the starting rotation. The native of Ohio had two decent years, throwing a total of 143 innings at NKU while working with Dizzy Peyton. The pitching coach at the school was able to relate to the southpaw and help him grow. “He had a great impact on my career,” Williams admits about Peyton.
His time at Northern Kentucky opened doors for Williams. While at the school, he caught the attention of San Diego Padres’ scout Matt Haas whose son Jackson is an infielder on the NKU roster. Haas previously served as the Baltimore Orioles’ National Scouting Cross-Checker. He has also worked for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox in their scouting departments. Williams did not put up the best numbers in terms of ERA and WHIP, but the lefty did strike out 154 batters while pitching for Northern Kentucky. The scout took note.
Williams did not anticipate being drafted in the first or second day of the 2019 draft, but he did think a major league team would call his name eventually on draft day. That did not happen. He went undrafted, and that has put a chip on his shoulder. “It (being undrafted) is something I use as motivation,” Williams admits. “Being an undrafted free agent is something that definitely motivates me, but at the same time, I am grateful for the opportunity the Padres have given me,” Williams explains. The pitcher describes that shortly after arriving in Padres’ camp, he came to the realization that everyone there is battling for a job, which means that no matter if you are a number one pick or undrafted free agent- you need to work to advance in the system.
The ties to Haas helped Williams’ cause as the franchise would give him a legitimate shot to sink or swim in the system. Willimas pitched well in the desert of Arizona, as he put up a 3.38 ERA in 21.1 innings pitched. Instead of promoting him to Short-Season baseball and the Tri-City Dust Devils like most 2019 draft picks, Williams was thrown into the California League before ending his 2019 season in Double-A with the Amarillo Sod Poodles. He only pitched in 11.2 innings at the High-A and Double-A level but struck out 16 batters while walking four men. “The last nine months have been surreal. From going undrafted in June to finishing the season in Amarillo was an incredible experience,” Williams said. It is not exactly known if he will continue his career in the rotation or the bullpen, but Williams should have no issue proving his worth to the Padres.
The left-handed pitcher is not someone who will blow you away with velocity. Williams features a fastball/slider combination that plays well. The pitcher is aggressive and attacks hitters relentlessly. When asked about what is most important to him while pitching, his response was easy. “Throwing strikes and getting the first strike in the count,” Williams said. The pitcher understands the importance of that fact, and the Padres have continued to drill that mindset into him.
This coming 2020 season will be huge for the 23-year-old as he begins his first full year of baseball. This spring will be his first in camp, and he is eagerly looking forward to the unexpected. “I would say that I am most excited about my first full season in professional baseball. It will be long, but I’m excited about the potential opportunities that stem from it,” Willams said.