When the Milwaukee Brewers surrendered their first round pick in the 2013 draft in order to sign veteran pitcher Kyle Lohse, it made it that much more important for them to be able to add top talent beyond the first round to strengthen their farm system.
If the 2014 season is any indication, they may have done just that when they added right-handed pitcher Taylor Williams in the fourth round out of Kent State University.
Williams began his college career at Washington State University but struggled on the diamond his freshman year and decided the school might not be the best fit for him. “I didn’t really feel like I was going to develop in to the player that I wanted to be there” said Williams.
Following the season, Williams headed to New Hampshire for the summer where he played for the Keene Swamp Bats in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. It was there he met some future Kent State teammates, Derek Toadvine of the New York Yankees, Tyler Skulina of the Chicago Cubs and David Lyon of the Texas Rangers. “I played with all three of those guys and I got along with them really well” Williams said. They knew that I wanted to transfer so they had mentioned to me that I should look in to coming to Kent State. They talked to the coaches at Kent for me and kind of put in a good word.”
Not wanting to sit out a year, Williams opted to attend Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, Orgeon his sophomore year before enrolling at Kent State for his junior season. There he worked under former Brewers pitcher Mike Birkbeck, the pitching coach for the Golden Flashes. With the ex-Milwaukee pitcher’s tutelage, Williams finished the season with a perfect 8-0 record and an earned run average of 2.03 in eleven starts.
Following the season, the Brewers selected Williams in the fourth round of the June draft and he jumped at the chance to begin his pro career. “I think to be completely honest I kind of knew that I was probably going to sign” said Williams. “I wasn’t opposed to coming back to Kent if my situation wasn’t as good as it was. A lot of it had to do with what happened in the draft, and what round I got drafted in, and the kind of money I was getting, but as much as I loved Kent and loved my teammates and loved the coaches, I definitely was looking to sign after getting drafted.
Upon signing with the Brewers, Williams went to Helena of the Pioneer League where he pitched in twelve games, making six starts and went 3-1 with a 4.25 earned run average.
That performance earned Williams a promotion to Class-A Wisconsin to start the 2014 season and he thrived with the Timber Rattlers. In 22 appearances, 12 of which were starts, Williams posted a record of 8-1 with a 2.36 ERA. He also racked up 112 strikeouts in 107 innings of work, while walking just 23 and recorded four saves.
“I had an extremely good time in the Midwest League” said Williams. “I’m not really from the Midwest but I consider myself a Midwest guy, going to school there at Kent State. I really enjoy the area. I really enjoyed Wisconsin. Great fans there. Great turnout every night. And then coaches like Matt Erickson and we had Elvin Nina there as a pitching coach and I had great chermisty with him. Just having the opportunity to play for those guys and play in front of the fans we did was an extremely fun environement and I made some good strides in Wisconsin.”
Williams also earned a spot on the Midwest League’s All-Star team, and ultimately a bump to High-A Brevard County to finish out the season. He made five August starts for the Manatees and noticed a more advanced approach from hitters.
“Talent wise I thought it was pretty comparable” said Williams, “but as you move up the ladder I think obviously the depth of talent and consistency gets a little better. There were definitely a few hitters in each lineup when you get to Florida that you had to be careful with. I think there was more depth in each lineup. I noticed that a little bit. More consistency among hitters.”
The Brewers saw enough in the 23-year-old righty that they offered him the opportunity to join the major league team for spring training this season as a non-roster invitee. It’s a privilege that Williams appreciates and hopes to learn a great deal from.
“It’s an extremely big honor to get an invite to the big leagues” he said, “and I’m going to use it the same way, with the approach I would go in to minor league camp. I’m gonna go in, work my butt off, try to get better every day and use that time to prepare myself for the season. It’s going to be an extremely amazing experience being around those big league guys so I’m going to try to get to know those guys and hopefully learn a lot being around those guys with big league experience and being around the coaches I’ll be around.”
Williams enters the 2015 season as the Brewers seventh ranked prospect according to Baseball America. While some scouts peg him as a future reliever, others feel he can remain in the starting rotation. However the Brewers decide to use him is fine with Williams.
“I really don’t have a preference to be honest” said Williams. “Obviously I did both last year and it doesn’t really make a difference to me. I enjoy doing both. I always believe that whether you’re starting the game or coming out of the bullpen, your job is to get outs to help your team win. Right now I’m starting and I really enjoy that and I’m trying to get better each and every day and whether I become a bullpen pitcher or not, it doesn’t really make a difference to me.”
That willingness to do whatever is asked of him will certainly help Williams as he strives to reach his ultimate goal of pitching in the big leagues and he’s looking to build upon his success of a season ago.
“I think every year, every player tries to shoot for the highest level they can break through” he said. “Obviously every guy wants to be in the big leagues so that’s the goal for everyone. Ending in Brevard County last season I think my goal would be to go in to camp and put myself in the best situation to start and move in to the year higher than that. My goal is to keep getting better every day when I go in to spring training, just to put myself in a good situation to develop and to get better and prepare myself for the big leagues.”
At just 23 years old, Williams will continue to develop in the minor leagues in 2015, but Brewers fans should get used to hearing the former fourth round pick’s name this spring. If he makes strides similar to the ones he made in 2014, they could be hearing that name called often, as he takes the mound at Miller Park for years to come.