The Oakland A's have a crowded major league spring training camp, with 63 players on-hand, the most…
On The Bubble: Jerome Williams, P
Name: Jerome Williams
How Acquired: Signed as a minor league free agent
There was a time not that long ago that Jerome Williams was one of the top young pitchers in the National League. He was selected in the first round by the San Francisco Giants in 1999 out of high school. After a quick climb through the minor leagues, the Hawaiian native made his major league debut in 2003 with the San Francisco Giants. He was outstanding for a team that won the NL West and 100 games. In 21 starts as a 21-year-old, Williams went 7-5 with a sparkling 3.30 ERA in 131 innings. He pitched in one game in the NLDS that season, becoming the first rookie to start a playoff game for the Giants since 1937. He allowed three runs in two-plus innings.
He was a regular in the Giants' rotation at the outset of the 2004 campaign, making 22 starts. He went 10-7 and posted a 4.24 ERA in 129.1 innings. However, he missed much of the final two months of the season after undergoing elbow surgery to remove some loose bodies in early August. He returned to the mound in time to win an important game for the Giants on September 30th that season. San Francisco fell just short of the post-season that year.
Williams began the 2005 season in the Giants' rotation, but he was sent to the bullpen after three rough starts. He was eventually optioned down to Triple-A Fresno, where he went only 1-4 in six starts. At that point, Williams was dealt to the Chicago Cubs. He was promoted to the big leagues with Chicago in late June and earned a win in his first start for the Cubs by allowing two runs on three hits in seven innings. He would finish the year strong for Chicago, posting a 3.91 ERA in 106 innings.
The next season was a struggle for Williams, however. He began the year with the Cubs, but was shipped down to Triple-A Iowa after only five outings and a 7.30 ERA. He spent the rest of the year with Iowa, where he posted a 4.63 ERA in 112.2 innings and, at times, seemed frustrated or disinterested in being on the mound for the I-Cubs. He was released by Chicago at the end of that season and claimed off of waivers by the A's. It appeared that he would compete for a spot in the A's rotation or bullpen that following spring. However, he was released by the A's not long before spring training and signed with the Washington Nationals for the 2007 season instead.
Williams made the Nats' Opening Day roster, but he landed on the DL with a sprained ankle after only five starts. He returned in May to make one start before landing on the DL again, this time with a strained shoulder. That would be his last major league start that season. He would finish that year with a 7.20 ERA in 30 major league innings and he had an ERA above 8.50 in 23 minor league outings. He was released by Washington in August and caught on with the Minnesota Twins for the final month of the season, throwing in eight Triple-A games.
Williams didn't find much interest in his services before the start of the 2008 season and he signed up with the Long Beach Armada of the Golden Baseball League. He made six starts for Long Beach, posting a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings. He was signed to a minor league contract by the Los Angeles Dodgers midway through the season and he spent the rest of the year in the Dodgers' chain. After three starts with High-A Inland Empire, Williams settled in on the Triple-A Las Vegas staff, where he pitched well, posting a 2.08 ERA in 26 innings. He signed with the A's on a minor league contract before the start of the 2009 season and received a non-roster invitation to spring training.
Despite his status as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball in the early 2000s, Williams has never put up dominating numbers at any level. His highest K/9 ration for any full minor league season came in his first full year in 2000, when he struck-out 8.2 batters per nine innings. He has averaged only 6.5 strike-outs per nine innings in his minor league career. At the major league level, his strike-out totals have been even more pedestrian, as he has averaged only 5.5 per nine innings in 425.1 career innings.
Williams has also struggled with his command throughout his career. He has averaged nearly four walks per nine innings in his major league career and three per nine innings in his minor league career. Williams is a pitcher who relies on good defense, which he had with the Giants early in his career.
Even though he isn't a strike-out pitcher, Williams always had good stuff. Injuries have diminished his arsenal some, however. In his prime, he had a fastball that he could add and subtract off of that he throws anywhere from 93 MPH to the mid 80s, as well as an excellent change-up, a solid slider and a big curveball. However, he has been beset by a series of injuries over the course of his career that have robbed his stuff of some of its sharpness. Williams hasn't thrown 100 innings since 2006. In some ways, Williams is a poor man's Joe Blanton. The two are almost the same age and even share similar builds.
Chances of Making the Team
Despite not having pitched in the major leagues since early 2007, Williams has a legitimate chance to earn a spot in the A's rotation with a strong spring and weak efforts from a few of the A's top pitching prospects. At age 27, Williams is the oldest starting pitcher in camp with the exception of Justin Duchscherer, and he has more major league starts than any A's starting pitcher. A's manager Bob Geren has already told the media that Williams is under consideration for the fifth starter's spot (Duchscherer, Dana Eveland, Sean Gallagher and Dallas Braden appear to be locks at this point in camp, although that could change).
For Williams to land in the A's rotation, he will not only have to pitch well, but he will also have to hope that Gio Gonzalez or Josh Outman fall on their faces. Both are young lefties who figure to be a part of the A's future for some time, so if they are pitching well in camp, it seems likely that the A's would lean towards using one of those two of those pitchers rather than Williams. Williams will also be competing against fellow major league veteran Edgar Gonzalez, who is in camp on a minor league contract, and a whole host of top A's pitching prospects, including Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Vince Mazzaro and James Simmons.
Williams figures to have the edge over Gonzalez, who is coming off of elbow surgery and is currently battling visa issues back in Mexico. However, if any of the Cahill-Anderson-Mazzaro-Simmons quartet puts together an eye-opening spring, that prospect may find himself in the rotation sooner than expected. There doesn't figure to be a role for Williams in the A's bullpen, which has Joey Devine, Brad Ziegler, Jerry Blevins, Santiago Casilla, Russ Springer and Michael Wuertz virtually guaranteed spots and a group of talented young relievers, including Jeff Gray, Andrew Bailey, Jared Lansford, Henry Rodriguez and Andrew Carignan, as well as veterans Kevin Cameron and Chris Schroder, waiting in the wings.
The good news for Williams is that even if he starts the year in Sacramento, he would still stand a good chance of pitching in the big leagues with the A's at some point during the season. Over the past few years, the A's have brought in a few of major league veterans on minor league contracts and used them for spot starts or long-man roles in the bullpen, most recently Kirk Saarloos and Colby Lewis.
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