Gavin Williams has been dominating at every level in the minors since making his pro debut last year, culminating with a 1.13 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in 3 starts at Triple-A this season. The Guardians have had middling prospect Peyton Battenfield taking up a spot in the rotation for a month, posting a 4.45 ERA and coming off giving up 5 runs (4 earned) in 6 innings on Wednesday. Coincidentally, Williams also pitched on the same day, striking out 10 in 5 2/3 innings with just 2 hits and 1 run allowed against a loaded Louisville lineup. So it just happens that Williams lines up to be able to take Battenfield’s turn next time through.
Williams started the season for Double-A Akron, putting up a microscopic 0.63 ERA with a 20-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14 1/3 innings. That got the 23-year-old right-hander promoted to Triple-A Columbus, where he has posted a tiny 1.13 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 16 innings. Cleveland has two days off this week, so Battenfield’s spot will likely be skipped, but Williams could be inserted in the Guardians rotation for a home game against the White Sox on May 22, thus keeping him on his schedule of pitching every 6 days.
Williams was selected in the first round (23rd overall) out of East Carolina in 2021 as one of the best power arms in the draft. The Guardians followed their much-lauded pitcher-development plan by having him wait to make his debut until 2022. Williams hit the ground running, posting a 1.40 ERA for High-A Lake County with a 67-14 K-BB in 45 innings before keeping it up for Double-A Akron with a 2.31 ERA and a 82-26 K-BB in 70 innings.
A hulking presence on the mound at 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, Williams pumps mid-90s gas and has touched 101 mph. He uses it to blow hitters away up in the zone. He has a plus 11-to-5 curve with an excellent slider and a firm changeup. Williams had control issues early in his college career as a reliever, but since becoming a starter he’s held his walk rate down to solid levels (3.1 BB/9 in the minors).
The Guardians already have three rookies in their rotation in Logan Allen, Tyler Bibee and Battenfield, as opportunities have been aplenty with Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale on the IL and Zach Plesac demoted to Triple-A. McKenzie and Civale are on track to return in late-May, so Cleveland is auditioning their young stable of pitching prospects to see who can stick.
For fantasy, Williams is likely already owned in all dynasty leagues, but redraft owners may want to stash him in leagues where they have the room for a potential call-up.
The likely plan for Williams is to get him to 140-150 innings this year after he reached 115 innings last season. He could wind up accumulating most of that in the minors, or he could take a spot in Cleveland and not let go. If Williams could get to 100 innings for the Guardians, we could be looking at 120 strikeouts with an ERA around 3.50 and a WHIP about 1.20. For dynasty purposes, he has the upside of an elite ace, so he makes for a great target if you’re trying to build a dominating future rotation.
Get ready Cleveland, Gavin Williams is on the verge!