Talking to Jonathan “Mac” Williamson, San Jose Giants outfielder, was like taking a breath of fresh air after being locked in a smoke-filled room for two months (the smoke-filled room is an analogy for the Giants offense, guys). Not only was he down-to-earth and well-spoken, but it was easy to take a look at what Williamson has done over the last two months and get excited. After a slow-start, Mac is batting .335 with 13 HRs, 44 RBIs, and a .593 SLG since June 1. His home run total is just three short of the California League leader. Saturday night marked his first multiple home-run game of the season.
That’s right. HOME RUNS — plural. We don’t get to see much of that at AT&T Park so in a dark time in this SF Giants season, we can all get excited for a player like Williamson who has the ability to drive the ball to all parts of the field and steal bases. He can even be an emergency catcher or pitcher as needed.
The right-handed outfielder grew up in North Carolina and was the No. 1 pitching prospect out of the state. He chose to attend Wake Forest University instead and switched from the mound to the outfield where he started to develop the defensive skills and offensive power he’s now known for. In 2011, the Red Sox selected Williamson in the 46th round and he turned them down to continue to progress as a hitter and outfielder. That following June, he joined the orange and black when the San Francisco Giants selected him in the third round.
Williamson is exactly the type of the player the Giants organization needs to continue to nurture — he’s moved through the system relatively quickly and possesses the kind of power San Francisco sorely needs. He also has the ability to play any outfield position, although he spends most him time on the right side.
Mac was kind enough to take some time with me to talk about his approach at the plate, his transition to the outfield, and what he likes about the Giants organization. Get to know him now because he’s about to become a household name in San Francisco.
I know you’ve been a catcher and pitcher in the past. Why did you make the switch to outfield and how was the transition?
I was a catcher most of my life. I was only a pitcher for a short amount of time and that was cut short by a shoulder injury. I tore my labrum my senior year of high school and had surgery my freshman year of college. When I came back from surgery – you know, labrum surgeries are pretty hard to come back from especially if you’re a pitcher, it’s your only tool. So I felt I missed hitting, I love to hit, I love to play every day so I wanted to get back into it and an opening presented itself at college. I asked the coaches for an opportunity to earn a spot out there and it kind of spiraled.
Do you ever miss pitching or catching?
A little bit. I miss pitching because I’m a pretty competitive guy and pitching is 1-on-1 with the hitter. Every single pitch is competing. And that’s why I like hitting – because you’re competing against the pitcher. And I miss catching a little bit but I like the outfield – it allows me to focus a little more on hitting. And I mean, catching is tough. It’s one of the toughest positions, if not THE toughest position. A lot of people don’t understand all the thinking that happens back there. You’re really controlling the game. I miss it a little bit but I think for right now focusing on making some changes at the plate is better for me.
Eventually you’ll be playing at AT&T Park which can be difficult to play defensively with Triples Alley and a lot of space. Do you feel like you have any advantages or disadvantages because of it?
Obviously it’s 421 out there in the gap and it makes for a challenge and it makes for an interesting time every time it gets over your head — especially if it hits the bricks. You never know where it’s going, you never know where it’s going to carom. Makes for an interesting time out there. We have a field out in Spring Training in Arizona that’s basically modeled after that. It’s not exactly like it because it’s doesn’t have the brick, but it’s modeled after that and I’ve played on that field several times and I think it’s something that will take a little bit of time getting used to. But just like anything else in baseball it’s a game of adjustments … I think I’ll be able to adjust to that too.
I’m curious why you chose to sign with the Giants. I know the Red Sox had some interest. Why did you choose this organization?
Well I was drafted the year before by the Red Sox. I was drafted a little bit later and I felt like I had more to prove. I was still a young hitter. I pitched, taking a year off when I had surgery. I basically didn’t do anything for a year and a half, so when I was coming back from hitting in high school to hitting in college, it was an adjustment for me. It’s an adjustment for anyone taking that much time off, but I felt I had a lot more to prove and that I’d be more valuable in a year than I was at the time. A year went by and I improved on some of the things I wanted to improve on and the Giants took a stab at me and they’re a great organization. I was ecstatic about the opportunity to represent them and hopefully help them win another championship.
Your second half has been great, off the charts. What have you changed in your approach? Is it something mechanical or did you just refocus?
Like I said earlier, baseball is a game of adjustments and the first half of the year I really worked on trying to change my load and become a more balanced hitter — have a better approach and allow for more room for error. Hitting is timing and pitching is messing up that timing. The more room for error you can allow yourself, the more successful you’re going to be. Some of the things I’ve tried to change — I have a little bit of a leg lift now vs standing more firm on the ground. And lately I’ve been trying to stay through the ball a little better, trying to drive the ball to all parts of the field instead of just being a pull hitter. And I think it’s coming along … I still have a long way to go but I think I’m headed in the right direction and hopefully I can keep making adjustments that will help me be successful at the next level.
Not sure if you know but you were mentioned on the Giants broadcast last night.
(smiles) Yeah I know, my host mom got a couple texts about it .
You have a reputation for being a five-tool player: being able to steal bases, hit for power – what do you feel is your strongest aspect of the game at this point and what do you want to work on a little more?
As cliché as it is, I don’t really think there is one part of my game that is sufficient or up to par. I think the one part of my game that’s showing is my power. But then again, power doesn’t really matter down here. There’s the Major Leagues and the minor leagues, whether you’re in Triple-A or low-A and I think the Giants know that I have power, and they’re not really worried about me showing that power whether I hit 15 bombs, or 30 bombs, or 5 bombs here. I think it’s more about me making the adjustments I need to make to become a hitter and being able to hit at AT&T. I want to continue to become better defensively . Like we talked about, I haven’t been an outfielder for very long and I think even as the course of this season has gone on, I’ve noticed some things lately like some plays I’ve been able to make and some reads I’ve made better that I didn’t make as well at the beginning of the year. AT&T is big out there in right-center, so being a defensive player is huge and I’d like to continue to do that as well as being a more complete hitter. I’ve started to hit for power to all sides of the field, using the whole field instead of just the pull side. I think when you become a more complete hitter being able to use the power alley in AT&T really opens up the defense for you to become a more successful hitter and help the team out.
Who do you look up to in the current big leagues or who did you model yourself after growing up?
I really didn’t model myself after one particular player. I’m from the East Coast — in North Carolina we don’t have a major league team so basically it was the Orioles, the Nationals or the Braves. I grew up a Braves fan, so I liked the way Chipper played – he’s a great player. But I didn’t’ really model myself after one particular player. I love the way Pujols plays, I love the way Matt Holliday plays. I would love to walk in their footsteps and to shadow my game after theirs but I can’t say that there is one particular player … I just want to be myself and do whatever I can to do to help the team win.
Anyone in the Giants organization you look up to?
I met Hunter Pence at Spring Training and I watched him when he played for the Phillies. You kind of get the sense that he’s a weirdo and some of his antics, pre-game routines and pre-at-bat routines are a little bit different and you kind of judge a book by its cover. When I met him at Spring Training, it was only for a few minutes briefly, but he’s just the most outgoing, nice guy. He was willing to talk to me, a nobody, a minor leaguer who was up playing for a game. I came over and talked to him for a little bit, and he gave me some good advice about playing the game like you have every other game in your life. They’re all the same, you put your clothes on the same way. It was really cool to talk to a guy who’s had tremendous success at the highest level and he’s just a run-of-the-mill guy. He’s not arrogant, he doesn’t hold himself to be above anyone else – even though he is . So I thought that was really cool and I really liked how he carried himself.
And here’s the (more) fun part – A Minor Inquisition with Mac Williamson. 7 Questions from Twitter (and my mind) to help get to know our prospect a little bit better. Things to listen for:
- Where the best breakfast is in Willow Glen
- What sweet treats Mac enjoys
- His thoughts on Buster Posey
A Minor Inquisition – 7 Questions with Mac Williamson