Call it a reach if you want, but Cleveland wasn’t messing around with their first pick of the 2021 draft. They went out and grabbed East Carolina’s Gavin Williams, a big right-handed pitcher capable of hitting 100 mph with ease.
FanGraphs’ latest mock draft had him going 28th overall to the Rays, previously citing his lack of command and a third pitch beyond his fastball and slider as a reason for him dropping so far. But with no middle infielders out there to tickle their fancy, Cleveland opted for the 6-foot-6 guy who throws pure gas.
Probably not a bad choice.
Williams sits 94-97 with an incredible fastball that is already capable of hitting triple digits. He started 12 games for the East Carolina Pirates last regular season, with a 1.88 ERA, 130 strikeouts, and just 21 walks in 81.1 innings of work. But it was his showing in the College World Series — which culminated in 13th ranked ECU facing off against the heavily-favored Vanderbilt team — that really helped propel him into the first-round conversation.
After struggling in his start against Charlotte in the regional round, Williams was tasked with facing a fourth-ranked Vanderbilt team that scored a combined 28 runs in its three regional games. To make things more difficult, his counterpart on the mound was Kumar Rocker, one of the most noteworthy and highly touted pitching prospects in the country (he would eventually be drafted 10th overall by the Mets).
Williams was electric in his 7.1 innings, finishing with a career-high 13 strikeouts, two earned runs, and just two walks. East Carolina would go on to lose and be swept by the Vanderbilt juggernaut in two games, but Williams already had his best start ever on his biggest stage ever — the hype train was in full motion.
He also garnered attention from Rob Friedman, who featured several of his feats during the game on his Twitter account, @PitchingNinja.
Gavin Williams Filth (9th and 10th Ks). pic.twitter.com/hnWDX9W6Ar— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 11, 2021
Gavin Williams, Beautiful Curveball. pic.twitter.com/gQGLZSkvXU— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 11, 2021
Gavin Williams, 11th and 12th Ks (thru 6). pic.twitter.com/bxVakdF2nE— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 11, 2021
There is some risk involved, of course. He suffered a pinky fracture on his throwing hand prior to 2020 that limited him to just two bullpen outings, and his lack of a true third or fourth pitch and lack of command could be an issue down the road.
But even if he is limited to a bullpen role looking something like a more effective, right-handed Sam Hentges, you could do a lot worse with the 23rd overall pick.