UYA helped shape Twins prospect Williams
Utility man developed personally, on field at Compton academy
Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academies weren't built only to create Major League talent. Perhaps most of all, they wanted to create Major League people. And that's why someone like Reggie Williams is one of its most important products.
Williams was a fourth-round Draft pick by the Twins in 2007 and has yet to make the jump from Class A ball. He's 22, hits left-handed, is adjusting to playing an array of different positions and still dreams of making it to the big leagues.
But Williams dedicates a lot of his time to helping others accomplish theirs.
During high school, Williams trained often at MLB's first UYA in Compton, Calif. Since he left, he has found every opportunity possible to come back, to talk to attendees about his own experiences and try to provide guidance.
Any time Compton's UYA needs someone to talk to the players or help out at a clinic, Williams does his best to make it back to Southern California.
"He's a Hall of Fame person," said Darrell Miller, who oversees MLB's UYAs. "He's just a great kid. He's always there when you need him, he's always so gracious with his time, and he's always willing to give back. On top of being a fantastic ballplayer, he's just a good human being."
Williams wants to speak with younger minds because he wants to tell them what their dreams won't.
Williams, too, was a standout player at the high school level who at times figured his road to the Majors would be easy. So he wants to talk to kids about the things they don't often hear. He wants to talk to them about the slumps, the occasional lapses in confidence, the Minor League conditions and the politics of the game.
And he wants to tell them about a thing called extended spring camp -- where he found himself at the beginning of his second pro season.
"That humbles you a lot," Williams said about being placed in extended spring camp by the Twins in the early part of 2009. "You always hear people talk about guys being pulled up fast or going straight to the big leagues -- the Ken Griffey Jrs. and Jason Heywards and stuff like that. They don't really tell you about things like that. Everyone always expects to be playing in the big leagues and playing in front of all these fans. But being in extended [spring camp], that humbles you a lot."
On Thursday -- when he found out he was being promoted from Class A Beloit in Wisconsin to the Twins' Class A Advanced affiliate in Fort Myers, Fla. -- Williams was pretty psyched up about eventually being in Florida.
Two years ago, when the club held him back so he could get right, he wasn't. But now that he looks back, Williams realizes he needed to shore up aspects of his game that don't show up in box scores -- mainly, his confidence and his frustrations.
Williams played at Rookie League Elizabethton, Tenn., that '09 season, then earned a late-season promotion to Class A Beloit and eventually put up solid numbers, batting .271 with a .339 on-base percentage, seven homers and 27 RBIs.
Then in 2010, he struggled throughout a full season in Class A, batting .236 and being caught stealing 14 of 21 times.
Perhaps some of those struggles can be attributed to Williams jumping straight from high school to the pros, or that on top of making that leap, he also needed to learn the fine art of being a utility player -- playing second base (70 games), third base (59), left field (35), shortstop (four) and right field (one) in his Minor League career.
Early on, Williams made those kinds of excuses all the time. But in reading scripture, listening to motivational tapes and talking to players, especially former Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy, he realized how important the mental component is to a successful ballplayer.
As often as he can, he tries to relay that message to the players at his former UYA.
"I try to tell them that," Williams said. "You may be the best on your high school team, but when you get drafted, you're average. What's going to separate you from the next guy? How hard you work and how you mentally approach the game."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.