"They've got me working on leading off mostly. Just getting on base more, taking more pitches. It is pretty much the same stuff they've had me working on since I got in the organization."
While Williams is one of the hottest prospects in the Diamondbacks organization there are whispers that he is under performing, whispers Williams hasn't heard, and doesn't care about. "Last year I was hurt a little, but it happened a couple of times and I never really got started. Now I'm 100% and I'm ready to go."
For Williams, this season was not a bad one. In fact certain aspects, most notably the 48 stolen bases in 56 attempts, were fantastic, and justify why the D'Backs are so high on this very raw prospect. But raw is the key word. Williams is on the 'Taxi Squad' in the AFL, and thus is not playing every day. "It is frustrating not to play every day, but I keep working, and a lot of the coaches down here are helping, so it has been good for me to be down here."
One of the coaches working specifically with Williams is Diamondback coaching representative Lee Tinsley. "Marland is probably the most raw guy the Diamondbacks sent here, but he's having a lot of good at bats, and really listening to what we are trying to teach him. He's working on everything down here, even defense. He's got such great speed that sometimes he can take a bad angle on a ball and still get there, but when he starts taking the right angles he'll have a chance to be a great defensive centerfielders."
Tinsley knows that the focus is on offense though. "He's learning how to lead off. How to take pitches, bunt, just put the ball in play. With that speed a walk is a double, and we're teaching him that, and he's learning that."
If Williams can consistently get on he might have an even higher ceiling than his more celebrated outfield mates Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin. Those 48 steals were accomplished with a less than stellar .315 on base percentage. Tack another 50 or even 100 points onto the OBP and Williams might have swiped 70 bags.
Being a 'Taxi Squad' guy is just another new challenge Williams is dealing with in the AFL. "Yeah, it's a little frustrating, just because I want to play everyday," Williams says with a smile, "but it is good to know they wanted me down there." He's not shy about his goals either, when asked about the problems the Diamondbacks had in center field last year he is visibly excited. "I've thought about that. If I play well here, and continue to improve, there is a chance. I'll just keep working and go to Spring Training and try to win the job."
Free agency and contracts and managerial opening aside, there is a scenario that might make Marland Williams very comfortable, and very happy. Until the management vacancy is filled one has to assume that at least two starting positions are available in the Diamondbacks outfield, and until Luis Gonzalez' elbow is completely rehabilitated it might be three. The El Paso Diablos outfield, Williams, Jackson, and Quentin is considered the cream of the crop in the minor leagues. "I just go out and play hard. I like playing defense, I liked playing with Conor and Carlos. They get to everything they can and I get to everything they can't get to, it was fun playing with them, and maybe we will get to play together again."
At the BOB?
"That would be even more fun."
Phillies in the desert: Chris Roberson had his best game of the fall on Friday. Roberson went 3-for-5, scored a run, drove in a run and stole his second base of the AFL season. The day brought Roberson's AFL average to .294 on the season…Ryan Howard didn't homer, but he did drive in another run Friday, upping his league leading RBI total to 10.