Surveying the scene, it was impossible for Justin Williams to not be aware of the opportunity in front of him this Spring Training. As a left-handed hitting outfielder, the 23-year old would have a chance to impress and perhaps find a way to standout amongst a right-handed heavy roster.
But that impression on the field will be delayed as an incident mid-December, in which he hit a television set, resulted in the dislocation and fracturing of some fingers on his right hand.
“It was just something I’ve been dealing with for awhile, and it just accumulated over time, honestly,” Williams said. “Situation is definitely resolved, and both ends of the parties were definitely going to move forward from it and deal with situations in a better manner.”
Acquired in July from Tampa as part of the Tommy Pham trade, Williams has one career MLB at-bat. And having played only 21 games at Memphis (AAA) after the trade last season, there was an understandable fear as to how the Cardinals would react to his actions.
“I just called my agent because at the time my emotions were running high,” Williams shared. “I was afraid. I didn’t know what to say. So I just called my agent and he talked me down, and he said, ‘I’m going to reach out and explain to them what happened.’ We took it from there.”
Williams remains on the St. Louis 40-man roster but he is going to be rehabbing his wrist through the early part of Spring Training. The Cardinals will know more about an exact plan for Williams once he reports and they can get another look at him, but there is a definite expectation he will be well behind the other position players.
“It definitely gives me a different focal point, Williams said. “Now, I just tell myself that I have to work that much harder. It’s just kind of a minor setback, in my eyes. I’m going to kind of look at it from a motivational standpoint vs. as I was saying a little earlier being negative about it.”
A .296 hitter in six minor league seasons, Williams will receive some extra motivation in the form of Ben Johnson, the new Memphis manager, who was the third base coach when Justin played for Durham (AAA).
“I love Ben,” Williams chuckled. “Ben and I–ever since the first day I met Ben it’s kind of been like a father-son (relationship), and not always in a good way. He was always professional and making sure that I was doing things the right way, and I didn’t see that right away. Once I left, once I got traded, and once I stopped getting his guidance on that day-to-day basis it really hit me like, oh, he was just trying to turn me into an everyday major-leaguer. Obviously we butt heads because I’m young. I love Ben. I’m really excited.”
Besides the familiarity with Johnson, Williams also had rave reviews about pitcher Genesis Cabrera–who came over with him from Tampa trade.
“His fire,” Williams stated. “When you see him on the mound, it’s like it’s his mound. Coming up with the Rays with him he was a starter, and seeing him as a reliever for the brief period of time that I did in Memphis it was like mind-blowing. Different player. In a good way. Like, he’s developed arm strength that I didn’t know he had. I am really happy for him, honestly. I think he’s going to play this game for a long time.”
photo credit: Brian Stull/STLBaseballWeekly.com