Prospect Williamson impresses in his intrasquad debut
It was about a week before summer camp opened when Brandon Williamson got a call he wasn’t sure was coming.
The No. 11 prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization, Williamson, the 6-foot-6, hardthrowing lefty who impressed in Everett last season, supposed there was a good chance he would be added to the club’s 60-man player pool, but he couldn’t be sure.
“I was kind of on the fence,” he said Saturday on a video call with reporters. “I was like, ‘I’ve got a good shot at going, but I might not go either.’ … I was just like, ‘I’m going to keep going as if it was a normal year, so if they do have something that happens, I (would be) ready for it.’ ”
Then Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto called, and suddenly Williamson, the topranked lefty in Seattle’s system, was on his way from the Midwest to Seattle to pitch against big leaguers and several of the organization’s top prospects.
The 22-year-old made his first intrasquad start Saturday — and picked up the win for the Steelheads — tossing two modified innings without allowing a run.
He walked a pair of batters, but struck out infield prospect Noelvi Marte before reaching his 40-pitch limit with two outs in the second.
“Facing some of our top guys in the organization, it’s awesome,” Williamson said after the start. “I love the high competi
tion, and it’s just good to get back out there and throw.”
Williamson was Seattle’s second-round pick last year out of Texas Christian University and impressed in a brief 10 games (nine starts) with Short-A Everett in 2019, posting a 2.35 ERA in 151⁄
3 innings with 25 strikeouts and five walks.
His fastball — which sat between 91-93 mph Saturday, and touched as high as 94 — and played well in his first professional season, and he also debuted a curveball he developed at the suggestion of AquaSox pitching coach Ari Ronick.
“We did some drills and I just started throwing hammers,” Williamson said. “It just felt good.”
Williamson said he barely threw a curveball during college, but it became a formidable weapon his first professional season.
“I didn’t trust it (in college), it wasn’t my go-to,” he said of his curveball. “I was mainly a slider guy, and once I got to Everett, starting throwing a curveball and it just caught. It worked for me. I felt comfortable. Something just clicked. I was like, ‘OK, this is what I can go with now.’ My slider is very similar, I would say.”
He’s also more aggressive now, he said, practicing what the Mariners so often preach — control and dominate the strike zone.
“Now I just trust what I’m doing and kind of know what type of pitcher I am a little more,” Williamson said.
During the shutdown Williamson, a Minnesota native, threw with his dad to stay in baseball shape, so he would be ready for whatever came next.
“I was fortunate,” he said. “I got to go home and I got to work out in a weight room still. I had more stuff than most guys had. I threw with my dad every day. He even bought catcher’s gear so I could throw to him. I was doing some live sessions with him every Wednesday.”
And the two of them didn’t hold back during those live sessions.
“He got drilled a lot,” Williamson joked. “There were a couple marks on his thighs. He wore one in the shin, the ankle. He even wore a couple when he was wearing gear, so we got gear right away. We had known from past experiences he needed some gear.”
Williamson completed much of the work with his dad each week he would have if he was with one of Seattle’s affiliates ready to begin a season.
It put him in a good position to be ready to pitch — and pitch well — Saturday.
“A lot of guys aren’t getting this chance,” Williamson said. “It’s a great opportunity to keep working with the organization, keep getting better and prepare for next year.”
Mariners starter Taijuan Walker is scheduled to start his first intrasquad game Monday, and he’s fired up for it, Mariners manager Scott Servais said.
“He’s been into my office twice requesting to face certain guys on the other team, so we’re trying to take care of him there,” Servais said.
“Taijuan is leading the charge with the smack talking going on, which has been great to see. Creating a little bit more competition, keeping it fun and lively. That’s exactly what we’re hoping for.”
Walker, Seattle’s first-round pick in 2010, returned to the Mariners just before spring camp opened in February, signing a one-year, $2 million deal with the club.
Monday’s intrasquad start will be the first time Walker has pitched in a game situation in T-Mobile Park — or, Safeco
Field as it was known before he was traded to Arizona — since 2016.
“It feels good to be back out there, and it feels really good being at TMobile Park again and seeing how beautiful the park is,” Walker said following his first live batting practice session Tuesday.
He faced Dee Gordon and Kyle Seager each twice during live BP, threw 22 pitches, and his fastball sat around 90-93 mph.
“I feel good, my arm feels good, I like where
I’m at,” he said.
Servais said Walker has been focusing on his secondary pitches during camp, particularly his slider and curveball, and has added a two-seam fastball to complement his four-seamer.
Walker’s growth from the time he left for the Diamondbacks, later underwent Tommy John surgery and eventually returned to Seattle has impressed Servais.
“He’s matured so much,” Servais said. “That’s the thing that sticks out to me from where he was a few years ago. As a person, as a teammate, on the field talking to young players, off the field — the whole package has really come together.
“I really hope we can keep him healthy, keep him going, get his innings built up as quick as possible … and he really takes advantage of the 10 starts he has with us.”
Reliever Gerson Bautista touched 101 mph on the stadium radar gun during Saturday’s intrasquad game, but his outing ended two pitches later. Mariners trainer Rob Nodine visited the mound after Bautista seemingly pointed to his right elbow. Servais said Saturday the 25-year-old, who came to Seattle in the 2018 trade that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets, was scheduled to visit with team doctor Ed Khalfayan for further evaluation. “We’re hopeful it’s nothing too serious,” Servais said. “He had an issue very similar to this a couple years ago, he informed our trainers coming off the field. ... Keep our fingers crossed we don’t lose him for too long.” … The Mariners will start using three local umpires, who have all cleared COVID-19 testing, for the remainder of their intrasquad games. Director of player development Andy McKay had been calling the games from behind the pitcher’s mound. … Monday’s intrasquad game is scheduled to last seven innings. Weekday games are streamed on the Mariners’ YouTube channel.
I WAS FORTUNATE. I GOT TO GO HOME AND I GOT TO WORK OUT IN A WEIGHT ROOM STILL. I HAD MORE STUFF THAN MOST GUYS HAD. I THREW WITH MY DAD EVERY DAY. HE EVEN BOUGHT CATCHER’S GEAR SO I COULD THROW TO HIM. I WAS DOING SOME LIVE SESSIONS WITH HIM EVERY WEDNESDAY.
Brandon Williamson is pictured at the Seattle Mariners Spring Training at T-Mobile Park in Seattle on Friday.