Despite slump, Williams improving as hitter

When Corbin Williams connected with a late-round pitch in batting practice Monday at Bowman Field, everyone standing around the batting cage froze and watched the white baseball fly toward the left field wall.

As the ball disappeared behind the Lycoming College sign, Williams looked back toward hitting coach Joel McKeithan and smiled as his coaches and teammates went nuts. There haven’t been many home runs in batting practice for Williams this season. It’s just not part of his game as one of the fastest players in the New York-Penn League.

But every once in a while it’s a nice little reminder of how far he’s come as a hitter. He’s generating better contact and a bit more power than he ever has. Now don’t go thinking Williams is a home-run hitter. He doesn’t. He knows his game is still get on base and steal bases.

“Here and there it flashes,” Williams said following batting practice yesterday. “Maybe not as much as some of the other guys, but it flashes. That’s not even my approach. I didn’t try to hit that ball out. But it does feel good. In the back of my head now I know I can hit it out, but I don’t have to.”

Yesterday’s batting practice home run was a bright spot in what has been a rough couple weeks for Williams. He’s struggled to find the success at the plate he had through July which helped carry him to the top of the league in stolen bases. Part of he struggles stem from poor pitch selection at the plate. Part of the reason is he’s hit into a little bit of bad luck. And part of the reason is the former 24th-round pick is feeling the wears and tears of a full season of baseball.

Williams fights the fine line of getting not enough and too much sleep on any given night. While he knows he needs the rest with only a few weeks left in the season to take care of his body, he said too much sleep leaves him feeling groggy during the day. So he wakes up after about 6 1/2 hours of sleep to make sure he comes into the work day with energy. From there, it’s all about being mentally tough and pushing through the fatigue and the struggles at the plate.

Williams wants to hit his way out of the two-week funk in which he’s mired. It’s why he hasn’t relied solely on his speed and bunts to continue to rack up hits while he struggles to find hits. Over the last 13 games, Williams is just 6 for 50 (.120) with 21 strikeouts. He’s stolen just four bases in that time.

In the 19 games prior to that, he was 19 for 66 (.288) with 14 stolen bases. Williams still leads the league with 25 stolen bases, two more than Batavia’s J.D. Orr.

“You can always bunt, but hitting is the hardest part of this game,” Williams said. “So if I can figure out how to get through this by hitting the ball, that would be good. So I don’t want to go running to the bunt as a bail-out. In the future, maybe I do that, but not right now. I’m young and trying to develop and trying to make every at-bat count.”

Development in Williams’ game has already happened over the course of the season. He thinks about where he was when he reported to spring training on March 2, and he only shakes his head at where he is now. At 21-years-old and a young baseball player, he was still trying to figure out how to realize his potential as a runner.

Williams has always known he was fast, but he’s still learning how use that speed dangerously as a baseball player. He’s a glider in the outfield who seems to coast to fly balls even when he’s running full speed. On the basepaths he’s turned himself from a runner into a technician as a base-stealer.

Before, when he got to first base, he was running without care. Now he’s reading slide steps, understanding when a breaking ball is coming which will boost his chances of stealing a base, recognizing counts in which the pitcher may throw and outside fastball, and figuring out the best possible times to run.

It’s part of the reason why with 25 stolen bases this season he’s been thrown out only five times. Orr has been caught stealing 14 times to reach his 23 steals.

“I’m more confident,” Williams said. “At the beginning of the season I had confidence, but now it’s through the roof. At first this season I didn’t know how fast I really was. Now I’m understanding what I can do.”

Now the key is to continue to find ways to get on base to maintain his stolen-base numbers. In his mind, he should be atop the league in stolen bases. So he’d like to stay there through the end of the season.

“It would mean something to me to stay there,” Williams said. “I should be at the top of that list, but now I’m just having a tougher time getting on base. So if I get on base I have to take advantage of that.”