Wednesday, April 28, 1999
Waipahu senior Jerome WilliamsBy Pat Bigold
has been a double threat in the OIA
with his pitching and hitting; and
that has pro scouts drooling
The interest in Jerome Williams had been building since March.
But Waipahu High baseball coach Milton Takenaka wasn't ready for what he saw as he drove up to Waialua Recreation Field for a game against the Bulldogs last weekend.
"There were all these rental cars," said Takenaka, who soon knew who the drivers were.
About 25 Major League scouts, armed with speed guns, were there to greet Williams, Hawaii's hottest prep pitching prospect since the Big Island's Onan Masaoka (1994).
But these weren't just scouts. They were cross-checkers, the men who show up when a club is seriously interested in drafting a player. When they fly out to see a player, it's an indication that the player could go in the earlier rounds of the June amateur draft.
"There were probably more scouts than spectators," said Takenaka with a laugh.
"When Jerome started to warm up, they all moved in on him."
Look at the latest issue of Baseball America and you'll see what the fuss is about.
The 6-foot-3, 187-pound Marauder right-hander is rated among the country's top 25 high school prospects.
And in this year's draft, where college talent is weaker than usual, that could mean a lot.
Baseball America writer David Rawnsley predicts high school players could dominate the draft. In fact, Rawnsley thinks at least the first four picks could be prep players _ the first time that has happened since 1971.
Williams has been clocked between 88 and 93 mph.
The highest rated high school pitchers, like Spring, Texas, right-hander Josh Beckett and Raleigh, N.C., left-hander Josh Hamilton, are throwing in the mid-90 mph range.
But it's not what Williams is now that has clubs excited. It's what they think he can become.
Williams is considered a raw young prospect with a very loose, very live arm with tremendous potential. The fact that he won't even turn 18 until late this year is another factor in his favor.
He's seen as coachable and very signable. Williams makes it known his plans after high school revolve around baseball if he is drafted.
If he is drafted, and it's really only a matter of how high he'll go, he'll have the chance to see the mainland for the first time.
Williams, who can also swing the bat (he hit three home runs in a 10-strikeout, no-hit effort against Moanalua) is the most dominating individual performer in the Oahu Interscholastic Association right now. Yet the Marauders (5-3) are not among four teams tied for first (Aiea, Mililani, Pearl City and Waianae are all 6-2) in the OIA West.
Williams is known to scouts as an all-around athlete. Not only can he pitch, but he is a capable catcher and was an all-star basketball player last winter. He started four years on the court.
In 33 innings this season, Williams (4-1) has struck out 59 batters, while yielding only 12 hits and seven walks.
On Saturday, battling a 102-degree fever under intense scrutiny, he one-hit Waialua and struck out 11 in a six-inning 13-0 victory.
"I just concentrate on the glove and block out everything else," said Williams, who was still feeling ill yesterday.
Williams crashed on to the scene as a sophomore with a stunning 16-strikeout performance against Campbell. But in the very next game, he suffered a broken collar bone in a collision at first base with a Nanakuli runner. That ended his season.
He came back with a strong junior season _ nothing sensational statistically, but there was enough data to make Major League clubs to want to check him out.
Williams said that while pitching in a preseason Maui tournament in March, he met Dan Dixon of the Major League scouting bureau and also a representative of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In the following weeks, interest in him spread rapidly throughout the leagues.
"My phone's been ringing all the time," said Takenaka.
Williams is locally born, but his father, carpenter Glenn Sr. hails from Brooklyn, N.Y., where he played high school ball.
It was Glenn Sr. who chalked a circle on a playground wall when Jerome, his youngest of three sons, was 5 and had him throw at it with a wet tennis ball.
"I threw and threw, and when I got inside the circle, the wet ball made marks where it hit," said Williams. That encouraged him and fueled his fire for throwing.
But when it came time to play organized youth baseball, he was assigned to play first base or outfield because the other youngsters his age could not handle his pitching.
"Only the adults would catch me," he recalled.
Ask Williams about his pitching style and he'll tell you simply, "I just go out to pitch."
He doesn't really have an assortment, and his slider is his "out pitch." But that doesn't seem to matter to the scouts who've been watching him.
"My dad says "Just don't let the batter see the ball,' " Williams said.