tennessee smokies logoWhat happens if you’re a senior college relief pitcher, taken by a big league team in the 10th round of the 2014 draft to save some slot money, then you’re converted to starting, and you dominate Low-A ball in your first full professional season? Well, you’re promoted aggressively to see if it’s legit, perhaps.

That’s been the crazy ride for Ryan Williams, who moved to the rotation with the South Bend Cubs this year and posted a 1.17 ERA over 53.2 innings (9 games, 8 starts), and has now been bumped all the way up to AA Tennessee, where he’s starting this morning for the Smokies.

At 23, being at AA is just about right for a starting pitching prospect, but this is obviously an unusual situation. It’s extremely rare in the current system for a 10th round college senior who signs way under slot (that’s an approach teams take to save bonus pool money) to become a relevant prospect, let alone to rocket up the ladder like Williams has. Having been a teammate of Jeff Hoffman’s at ECU last year, it’s likely that Williams was heavily seen by scouts, too (unless everyone but the Cubs were leaving before the 9th inning).

At South Bend, Williams’ strikeout rate was 19.0%, which isn’t very impressive for an experienced college pitcher facing much younger competition. Then again, he was always in the zone – he had a ridiculous 1.0% walk rate – and batters weren’t doing much damage. He gets a ton of groundballs, and maybe he’s going to be one of those rare guys who can be a useful pitcher without overwhelming stuff or strikeout totals.

Mostly, I just think it’s really cool to see a guy with his story jump to AA like this. Maybe nothing comes of it, and maybe it’s only for a start or two until one of the many better-known prospects at High-A gets the bump or until Pierce Johnson is ready to be activated. But it’s fun.

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