Matt Williams spent the first year-and-a-half of his college career as a self-described defensive specialist. Between that time and a 15th-round selection by the St. Louis Cardinals last June, he developed into an actual hitter.|
Asked what changed in that stretch, Williams did not have an answer.
Maturation, he guesses.
"I definitely got into the weight room more often and my strength got better," Williams, a Quad Cities River Bandits infielder, said. "Just getting older and stronger really helped. My approach didn't change."
The results did.
Gone are the days when Williams was not viewed as an offensive threat. Better strength coupled with improved plate discipline have him as the Bandits' everyday lead-off hitter through the first four weeks of the season.
And Williams appears to be set in that spot.
"He's a good situational hitter. He'll probably hit second or eighth in the National League," Bandits manager Luis Aguayo said. "Right now, he's getting on base and getting hits. He's a good hit-and-run man. He's doing all the little things."
Basically, his bat is ideal for the lead-off position.
He spent the first two years at Liberty University in that spot before moving to No. 3 as a junior when his strength improved. When he reached rookie-level Johnson City last summer, he batted leadoff "a few times," but mostly spent time in the second or third spot.
In his first professional experience, Williams compiled a .293 average in 229 at-bats with 106 total bases, 47 runs and 20 stolen bases. More importantly, he had a .382 on-base percentage -- a solid number for someone if they batted leadoff.
"Batting leadoff, it's that much more important to get on base and get into scoring position," Williams said. "I take pride in doing that."
As of now, the numbers -- .259 batting average, .323 on-base percentage and one stolen base -- are not what Williams wants, but he's showing signs of improvement. During the Bandits' series-opening win over West Michigan on Thursday, he led off two innings with a hit, scoring both times.
After the game, Aguayo praised Williams' ability to be a tablesetter, saying "he can do it all."
All he needs is the right frame of mind.
"It's all confidence," Aguayo said. "It's about getting confidence and going out and playing."
So far, Williams is doing that.
"I'm starting to get my confidence back," Williams said. "I'm fine at the plate. I feel a lot more comfortable."
Part of that is identifying ways to improve each time he reaches the batter's box.
"It's almost like you learn something new each day," Williams said. "It's a game of adjustments. The more you adjust, you can keep rolling."
Making adjustments is what paved the way for Williams to become a lead-off hitter. All he wants to do now is continue his ascencion to a consistent offensive threat.
Just like his explanation for his sudden improvements, Williams offers no secret to what's got him to this point.
"Honestly, I just see the ball and hit the ball," Williams said. "I work on things in batting practice and early hitting. Once it's gametime and I step into the box, everything goes out the window and I let my muscle memory take over. I just trust my preparation."
River Bandits extra bases
- Bandits this week: vs. South Bend (today-Tuesday); at Burlington (Wednesday-Friday); vs. Peoria (Saturday-Sunday)
- Bandits news and notes: QC entered Sunday with a team ERA of 2.96, the second-lowest total in the Midwest League. Offensively, it ranks second in the league with 115 runs in 22 games. ... Bandits manager Luis Aguayo said outfielder Roberto Reyes, who was put on the disabled list on Thursday, will be out a week or two with a hairline fracture of his pinky finger. Aguayo said infielder Tyler Rahmatulla (thumb) should come off the DL in another week. ... The game-time temperature on Saturday was 46 degrees at Modern Woodmen Park. ... "It's affecting everybody," Aguayo said. "We're not doing to well below 50 degrees. But it's a thing we've got to conquer." ... Last Wednesday was the Bandits' first off day since April 8. The entire team did not report to the ballpark on its only off day until May 22. "I know it was good for me," Aguayo said. "You can clear your mind, rest your mind. It's good to rest and relax." ... Entering Sunday, infielder/outfielder David Medina had played in 21 games this season and reached base safely in each one of them. It's the longest current streak in the Midwest League. ... Kyle Hald (Wednesday), Todd McInnis (Thursday) and Sam Gaviglio (Friday) get the pitching starts at Burlington.
- QC alumni: Memphis Redbirds first baseman Matt Adams hit a home run on Friday after returning one day earlier from a three-game absence due to a hyperextended right elbow. Adams' four home runs are tied for sixth in the Pacific Coast League. He spent the 2010 season in Quad Cities, hitting 22 home runs with 88 RBIs.
- FYI: Chillicothe native and former Illinois infielder Josh Parr was scheduled to start at shortstop on Sunday for the South Bend Silver Hawks. Parr's selection in the 12th round of last year's draft paved the way for 2010 Moline graduate Thomas Lindauer to slide from second base to shortstop this season. ... Former Alleman and Augustana pitcher John Peters has made his way onto the rookie-league Gulf Coast League Nationals roster.
- Around the Midwest League: West Michigan outfielder Steven Moya, who leads the league with a .377 batting average, was placed on the disabled list on Saturday. Moya strained his right hamstring in the first inning of Thursday's game at Modern Woodmen Park. ... Lansing Lugnuts starting pitcher Justin Nicolino, the Baseball American's fifth-rated prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system, threw three innings in a start on Sunday. He allowed two hits and struck out four against one walk. In 15 innings this season, Nicolino has a 0.00 ERA with 17 strikeouts and two walks.
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