Sunday, June 18th, 2017 was cloudy and in the low 70’s on Cape Cod as the hard-throwing Taylor Williams took the mound for the first time pitching for the Brewster Whitecaps. The score was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the 5th inning at Lowell Park as the Cotuit Kettleers were coming to the plate. Williams was looking forward to his first Brewster appearance, but would only throw 12 pitches that afternoon and would not pitch again that summer.
Williams journey to Xavier University and the most prestigious summer collegiate baseball league, Cape Cod, began in Colorado. The 5’ 11”, 155 lbs, high school senior played both baseball and basketball (until his senior year) at Douglas County High School in Castle Rock, 30 miles south of Denver. The right-handed pitcher and second baseman focused solely on pitching his senior year and drew rave reviews from Perfect Game USA. The national baseball scouting service had this to say about Williams in 2015; “Slender young build, lots of room to get stronger. Williams has a high energy delivery with lots of deception. Mid 80’s fastball, topped at 86 mph and has outstanding feel for the breaking ball and locates at will.”
Williams, the 6th ranked right handed pitcher in the state of Colorado according to Perfect Game, finished his senior year with a 3.85 ERA, 6 wins, 56.1 innings pitched and 57 strikeouts. He caught the eye of the Xavier baseball coaching staff who travel to every corner of the country looking for talent to bring back to Cincinnati. Williams signed on February 4th, 2015 and was off to Xavier in the Fall to start his collegiate baseball career.
Williams hit the ground running his freshman year as a Musketeer making his debut at Arizona State University on February 20th, 2016. Williams struck out six of the seven ASU batters that he faced in 2.1 innings. In his first collegiate season, Williams made 27 appearances pitching out of the bullpen, tying for second on the team. He logged 46 innings pitched, had an ERA of 3.91 and was 3rd on the team with 39 strike outs. Williams only gave up one home run the entire season which equated to an eye popping .20 HR per nine innings.
As a sophomore, Williams continued to be a work horse out of the pen appearing in 25 games for Xavier again finishing second on the team. He struck out 31 hitters over 27.2 innings, giving him an impressive 10.08 SO/9 innings. He featured a 91-92 mile an hour fast ball that topped out at 94 mph. If there was a kink in Williams armor in 2017, it was that his command wavered at times. His walk rate uncharacteristically jumped to 6.51 BB/9 innings.
After losing a hard fought 8-7 game to the University of Louisville in the NCAA Regional Final that spring, Xavier headed home for the summer and Williams to Cape Cod.
Williams felt great taking the mound that fateful day in June. He remarked later that his arm felt “awesome”. He struck out the first batter he faced, Duke’s, Zack Kone, with only 4 pitches. Next up was Ako Thomas from the University of Michigan who worked a walk on 6 pitches. Williams then made his first pitch to his 3rd batter, Greyson Jenista from Wichita State and said he felt his elbow “pop.” He threw one more pitch and his velocity dropped. Williams described having no stability on the outside of his hand and pinkie finger. He looked over to the dugout and pointed to his elbow. His season was over. Twelve days later on June 30th, Williams would undergo ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery, more commonly known as Tommy John surgery. The surgery was performed by Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the Medical Director for the Cincinnati Reds.
Williams, now 6’0”, 180 lbs. and a red shirt senior, sat down with Banners on the Parkway over the holidays to discuss his recovery 16 months removed from surgery, his views on the upcoming season and life after Xavier.
Banners on the Parkway: Taylor thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions for us over your winter break. First off, how is the elbow feeling and what have been some of the biggest challenges that you faced during your recovery? I know the first 6 months can be a real grind.
Williams: The first part sucked, but it was good because I needed to focus on my school a little bit more. Then coming back from the actual surgery, it was slow and I wanted to push myself further than I was allowed to do. I had to hold myself back, but everything feels good now. You can tell there is a little bit of a difference now than there was before but I wouldn't say it’s good or bad, it’s hard to explain.
Banners on the Parkway: Have you made any changes in your pitching mechanics since the surgery?
Williams: I have tried to keep everything relatively the same. I’m working on my lower half a little bit more. I don’t think there was a problem with anything in my mechanics, but I think it was just overuse and it (elbow) started to tear down.
Banners on the Parkway: How about your general arm care going forward?
Williams: I would say my work load is about the same, but I put more emphasis on different movements and I’m more careful about what I do outside of baseball, like playing ping pong or throwing a football with some friends. I try to be careful and prepared for what I’m going to do.
Banners on the Parkway: How did it go after the long layoff and pitching on the Cape for Brewster this past summer?
Williams: I felt great just getting back out there, but my command was a little bit off. I hadn’t thrown to any live batters before I got out there. (It had been just over 12 months since the surgery.) It was a lot of fun and really exciting.
Banners on the Parkway: You had a nice high school baseball career playing at Douglas County High School in Castle Rock, CO. Do you think growing up and pitching at altitude helped you become a better pitcher?
Williams: I think so because the ball flies in CO so you need to make people hit it on the ground and you need to work on location more.
Banners on the Parkway: There is another Douglas County player, Ryan Connolly, who you played with in HS who now pitches at Creighton. Do you guys still keep in touch?
Williams: Yeah, we still hang out and keep in touch. I actually saw him a couple of days ago at a pre-Christmas party. We plan on hanging out over New Years as well.
Banners on the Parkway: Nice, you guys have come along ways since your days in high school. Who knows, maybe you will end up facing each other on the mound when Xavier plays Creighton in April. What was the recruiting process like for you and how did you end up at Xavier?
Williams: We played on Xavier’s field (between my junior and senior year in high school) in the summer and I went to a camp there. My Dad and I did some research on the academics and we really liked it. Billy (Coach O’Conner) was the assistant coach at the time. Later that day, we played in Kentucky and I pitched six innings and we “run ruled” the team. Billy was able to watch us play the next day at Miami of Ohio. I think I threw the last 2 innings of that game and after that we started talking a little bit and that’s how I ended up going to Xavier.
Banners on the Parkway: What pitches do you like to throw now?
Williams: I would say two-seam (fast ball) and probably four-seam after that. I feel like I throw 80-90% fast balls. Other than that, I’m working on my slider and change up. I think both of them have gotten a lot better than they’ve been in the past. I’ll be throwing those more often.
Banners on the Parkway: Before your injury, you were a work horse for Xavier. Your freshman and sophomore year you appeared in 52 games over the course of two seasons. What are your personal goals heading into your senior year for the Musketeers in 2019?
Williams: Limit walks and have a great ERA, those are probably my two biggest goals.
Banners on the Parkway: What are your team goals for the 2019 season? I know expectations are running high for next year.
Williams: Win percentage over .500, win the Big East and make it past the Regional’s (NCAA tournament) for the first time and go to a Super Regional. Obviously, the goal is to make it to Omaha but I would say that (reach a Super Regional) is a minimum.
Banners on the Parkway: Who has had the biggest influence on you so far in your baseball career?
Williams: I would say my Dad. Growing up, he wouldn't put too much pressure on me, but would give me some tips like, “you should work on this or work on that.”
Banners on the Parkway: That’s great, what do you like to do when you are not playing baseball?
Williams: Hunt and fish, hang out with friends or go do something fun outdoors. If there is nothing to do outdoors, play some video games or maybe watch TV.
Banners on the Parkway: What are your plans after Xavier?
Williams: I have three options that I’m looking at. The first one is to hopefully get drafted. If that doesn’t work out, the second option would probably be, depending on how much scholarship money I get, to come back and play for a 5th year. I would probably get a Masters in something although I have not really looked into that a whole lot. If I don’t do that, I would look into getting a job in the oil industry with my dad. I would either start out in Wyoming or Houston for a couple of years.
Banners on the Parkway: That was great Taylor, very insightful, thank you. I really appreciate your time and best of luck in 2019.