Williams had an opportunity in spring training to convince the Orioles that he should make the club as an extra outfielder, and perhaps the starter in right until Trey Mancini returns, but exhibition games were stopped and camps closed down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The importance of baseball competitions and roster decisions shrank as if made of cotton.
The younger version of Williams, the big-time prospect in the Yankees system, would have exhausted himself trying to maintain control of every situation. But he’s 28, past prospect status and functioning with a clear mind and maturity that enables him to handle it.
“I’m just understanding myself and the game more and I think I’m just kind of coming to the realization with that,” Williams said one morning last week while standing on the patio outside the media workroom in Sarasota, going along with the six-foot perimeter rule before access was denied.
“The biggest thing is knowing the things I can control and a lot of stuff in this game I can’t control. Honestly, I’m trying to handle myself, make sure I’m doing things right on my part and stay positive.”
The strategy kept him from stressing over his chances of playing in Baltimore on opening day. Before that date was erased and speculation mounted that it wouldn’t return before May.
Learning to be more patient kept him strong over the summer while the Orioles waited until September to promote him. He batted .308/.371/.477 with 15 doubles, three triples, 18 home runs and 67 RBIs in 121 games with Triple-A Norfolk after signing a minor league deal on March 28, but they continued to experiment with infielders in the outfield rather than hand him a job.
Williams continued to put up numbers and wait his turn.
An attitude that evolved over time.
“Yeah, and that’s just part of playing the game. I would think also in life, too. You’ve just got to go through things to realize what things are like on the other side and how things work,” he said.
“I’ve been through a lot in this game, been playing for a while personally, I feel like. I’ve been through a lot, I’ve seen a lot of things, I’ve been told a lot of things. Like I say, I try to stay positive and handle the things I can control.”
Williams collected nine hits in 24 at-bats this spring with a home run, four RBIs, five walks and five runs scored. He slashed .375/.483/.500 in 13 games while Austin Hays, projected to start in center, went 5-for-28 and slashed .179/.273/.286 in 10.
Someone needs to back up Hays in center and Williams statistically had outplayed Cedric Mullins, who was 4-for-19 with nine strikeouts and slashed .211/.286/.211.
Invited to camp after agreeing to another minor league deal, Williams would have to be placed on a 40-man roster that currently has one opening but is going to need more if the Orioles keep pitchers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone and infielder Pat Valaika. And depending on what happens at backup catcher.
“I’m trying to be myself and trying to help this team win and try to be comfortable with what I’m doing,” Williams said. “I feel like there’s an opportunity here, but I can only control what I can control and that’s things on the field.”
When the Orioles get back on it.
One player said yesterday that everyone is “kind of just hanging out waiting to see what happens” and mentioned “a lot of unknowns.”
Major League Baseball is discouraging teams from allowing informal workouts that impede social distancing. Non-roster players have been told to return home.
Players on the 40-man are permitted to stay at the facility, but that’s subject to change.