Jett Williams is not born to be a mechanic. Jett Williams — with a name like that — is born for the spotlight.
Of course Jett Williams is a baseball player — and the exact player you are imagining: blazing and scrappy, strong but short.
Some offspring of sports royalty have to live up to their names. This Mets prospect is living up to his name in a different light while spreading a myth that at least feels true.
The origin story of his first name, at least the one Williams has heard, entails his father, Richard, needing another “J” name to add to the family. He was thinking of “cool names, unique names” — names that would flow out of loudspeakers when his son would be announced at sporting events. The name came with some expectations — as does Jett’s middle name, Michael, which pairs with his sister’s first name: Jordan.
“He was thinking if I’m walking up to the plate or whatever I’m doing in sports — Jett Williams,” Williams said this week from Maimonides Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. “That sounds like a cool name.”
Not just a cool name but a specific one. Williams has a few more levels to master, but the prospect is on his way to introducing his apt name to the world.
The Mets’ No. 3 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, might be their most electric. Williams has stolen a system-best 41 bases in 100 games this season between Low-A St. Lucie and High-A Brooklyn and continues to show why he was the No. 14 overall pick in the 2022 draft.
“Our scouting department got it right, 100 percent,” Cyclones manager Chris Newell said.
Williams is a natural shortstop who has begun learning center field, his most likely major league landing spot in an organization that has Francisco Lindor and eventually will want Brandon Nimmo in a corner.
Williams played some outfield in high school — volunteering to shift out of the infield at Texas powerhouse Rockwall-Heath High School because he felt better suited than a teammate to man the grass — and said he loves the spot.
Better learning the outfield will be better for him and better for an organization that wants to keep his avenues to the majors open. He has proven flexible, and his speed has played in center.
“I told [VP of Vice President of Amateur and International Scouting] Tommy Tanous the other day: We could put this kid behind the f–king plate, he’s going to find a way to get it done,” Newell said of the 19-year-old. “There’s just guys out there that are just baseball players.
And small. Williams is listed at 5-foot-6 and 175 pounds, a stick of dynamite who plays like it. He has been “the smallest guy [on the team] throughout my whole career,” he said, which did not mean much to him until high school, when he began hearing whispers about whether he was too short.
The Dallas native grew up identifying with and rooting for Houston’s Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman along with Mookie Betts — shorter players who stand tall.
“I think it shapes me into who I am today,” said Williams, who uses a leg kick to generate extra power at the plate. “The way I play — playing with almost a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. Trying to not really prove people wrong, but it’s just if somebody tells me I can’t do something, I do it and just kind of laugh.”
Pitchers are not laughing. Williams lasted 79 games at Low-A before hitting his way out, posting an .832 OPS with six home runs and a .422 on-base percentage. He recovered following a slow start — he logged a cumulative .699 OPS in April and May — then took off when he returned to a more vertical leg kick that had worked for him in the past.
Since a promotion to Brooklyn, where he is among the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, he has been even better. Williams owns a 1.079 OPS in 21 games this month, the best in the league in that span. He has found his power stroke, with eight home runs this month, and reached base nearly half the time (.474 OBP).
Williams has done this kind of damage with just 13 plate appearances all year against pitchers who are older than he is. Nearly as encouraging as the output is the process: Williams has made good swing decisions and walked (87 times) nearly as often as he had struck out (94 times) this year. That kind of grasp on the strike zone is rare, particularly for a player his age. He has walked more than all but three minor league teenagers this season.
For an approach and a swing that has looked ready immediately upon turning pro, Williams partially credits a life of work with personal hitting instructor Aldrey Rincones, who has been coaching Williams since he was about 10. The independent instructor also works with MLB players such as Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos, former Rangers whom Williams still talks to often.
Williams won’t turn 20 until November, but he has the potential to be a quick riser.
Of course a guy named Jett Williams can get things done quickly.
“He’s an absolute gem,” Newell said.
How’s it growing?
The Mets hope that by holding on to prospects such as Williams — GM Billy Eppler noted after the 2022 trade deadline that he did not move any of the club’s internally ranked 19 best prospects — and continuing to add, as they did during this year’s deadline sell-off, that the club’s minor league system will begin steadily supplying useful players for the major league team.
That is the hope for the prospects, too.
“Absolutely,” said Ryan Clifford, who along with Gilbert was acquired in the Justin Verlander trade. “Obviously they got an owner that is really invested in the team, and that’s exciting. [Steve Cohen is] going to go out and try to get the best players he can get.
“Now that we’ve got such a good youth and a great farm, you can easily see us all up [in the majors] together. I think that’s exciting and promising.”
Clifford is the Mets’ No. 6 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline’s updated rankings. He and teammates with the Astros’ High-A Asheville affiliate were on the road in Greensboro and hanging around the clubhouse as the deadline approached. They were quiet, watching TV, when Clifford saw his name pop up on the screen.
Clifford looked to his manager, who had not heard directly yet about a trade. Clifford waited for a phone call that soon came, packed up his stuff and soon was en route to Brooklyn.
Listed as 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, the 20-year-old is a slugger who might find a home at first base and might end up a strong-armed corner outfielder. A powerful lefty bat who was raised in North Carolina but visited Boston often because his father is from Massachusetts, Clifford grew up idolizing David Ortiz. These days, he emulates Bryce Harper.
“I like the way he plays the game,” Clifford said of the Phillies’ lefty slugger. “I’m not going to go up there and try to replicate the crazy swing. … Just overall the way he plays the game and the heart he plays with, it’s fun to watch.”
Like Harper, Clifford brings an advanced approach to the plate that has resulted in a .391 on-base percentage in his short minor league career. He has struck out too often — 35 times in his first 18 games with Brooklyn — but is known for getting into deep counts and waiting for his pitch.
“Growing up, I always kind of got pitched around a little bit, so I had to learn to pick my spots to be aggressive,” Clifford said. “Going into pro ball, it’s changed a little bit and guys are looking to be a little bit more aggressive. I’m looking to be aggressive myself. I know [my plate discipline has] gone down a little bit — I’ve been chasing a little bit. So just looking to get back to that spot and swing at the pitches I want to swing at.”
Oh, Halo again
Clifford arrived with fanfare, a rising prospect exchanged for a future Hall of Famer.
Jeremiah Jackson arrived quietly, but he might have an important Met in his corner.
When the Mets landed the utility man in the Dominic Leone trade, Eppler had acquired Jackson for a second time.
When the Angels drafted Jackson out of an Alabama high school in the second round in 2018, Eppler was in charge. Five years later, Jackson changed organizations for the first time to rejoin an Eppler group.
“It shows what he thinks of me as a player,” Jackson, now with Double-A Binghamton, said earlier this month.
The 23-year-old is trying to break out for a second time. In 2019, the righty slugger smacked 23 home runs in 65 Rookie League games.
The pandemic then struck, followed by injuries that sidetracked his rise. He played in just 51 games in 2021, missing time with a reported quad injury, before an oblique injury sidelined him over six weeks in 2022.
He has yet to reach Triple-A, but hopes he can put together a good final few weeks with Binghamton.
“Athlete, got good tools,” Jackson said in scouting himself. “The thing I’ve been working on is just the consistency. Bring some power to the table, some contact. … Being out there and being healthy is really my main goal.”
So far, so good. Jackson has stayed on the field for 101 total games this season with middling results: good power (20 home runs) but a .242 average to go with a .766 OPS.
As a player who came up as a shortstop and now moves all over the infield and outfield, a bat with some power and an ability to play anywhere would be playable in the majors.
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