Luke Williams appeared in seven games with the Atlanta Braves in 2023 after joining the organization mid-season... even though, despite the scant usage, he managed to stay on the roster for about six weeks,
Williams was a third-round draft choice by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015 out of high school. After making his MLB debut with the Phillies in 2021, he bounced around on waivers from 2022-onward.
He was traded to the Giants by the Phillies at the end of Spring Training in 2022. Two months later, Williams was dealt to the Miami Marlins and appeared in 71 games for Miami. He was claimed on waivers by the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2022 season and appear in foured games for the Dodgers in 2023 before the Braves claimed Williams off waivers in June 2023.
What were the expectations?
Williams functioned like a fine bench piece in 2021-2022, compiling 0.4 fWAR in 244 PAs while filling in everywhere but catcher. He had just a single and three strikeouts in ten PAs for the Dodgers before the Braves claimed him, but that didn’t temper expectations that he’d be a rarely-used, defensively-oriented fill-in. And, in the end, that’s what he was.
Williams saw action in a total of 11 MLB games in 2023 at five difference defensive positions, although he spent much of the last half of the season as the 26th man on the Braves roster.
With the Dodgers, Williams collected one hit and stole one base in four games and 10 plate appearances. He also pitched a clean inning at one point. After joining the Braves, he scored one run and stole three bases but did not get on base in nine plate appearances, while striking out four times.
At Triple-A, Williams played in 90 games between the Los Angeles and Atlanta organizations, with an overall .259/.353/.423 slash line. He homered 12 times, which was the most he had in any single season as a professional.
What went right?
Despite appearing in the fewest games in a season at the MLB-level since debuting in 2021, Williams spent a significant part of the season on a team’s active roster. He pitched one inning for the Dodgers without giving up a hit or walking a batter and stole four bases without being caught.
With Atlanta, he started one game at third base and provided the team with a pinch-running and late-game substitution option, taking over the role Charlie Culberson held for much of the season.
Williams has now appeared at every position other than catcher in his MLB career.
His best moment as a Brave probably came on September 20, when, in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game, he pinch-ran for Sean Murphy with none out, stole second, and then stole third. However, all of that was for naught, because Michael Harris II struck out, and Williams himself got gunned down by Nick Castellanos trying to score the walkoff run on an Orlando Arcia foulout.
What went wrong?
Between 2021 and 2022, Williams appeared in 137 major league games. Although he posted a below average OPS+ and wRC+ his value as a versatile defender was underscored by the seven different defensive positions at which he saw action and a combined 0.4 fWAR.
In 2023, the offensively challenged Williams only collected one hit in 19 at-bats and posted -0.5 fWAR, which totally wiped out his career positive fWAR. His Triple-A numbers were solid enough to show that he has value and could hold his own if he needed to make a week or two of starts in the majors, but he hasn’t seen the progression to expect him to see his role expand beyond that of a Triple-A starter or deep MLB reserve. The inability to hit beyond an okay level at Triple-A is kind of an issue.
Williams’ worst game as a Brave on paper was probably, and somewhat sadly, his only start for the club, on September 24. He went 0-for-3 in a quick game that the Braves lost 3-2. He also had this strikeout in a different meaningless game against the Nationals in a bigger spot, in his last game of the year:
The Braves designated Williams for assignment in November 2023 but re-signed him to a minor league deal prior to Thanksgiving.
Williams is only 27 years old, so he’s young enough to still have some upside, but he’s likely looking for a Spring Training invitation where he would have a chance to grab a big-league end-of-the-bench role. Given that the Braves traded Nicky Lopez and don’t have many depth options at the MLB level, Williams could be an option for that last position player roster spot, albeit a really unexciting one.
The Braves have shown a history of bringing in a copious number of utility-type players to stash at Gwinnett in recent years — many of whom share the traits that Williams has — so there’s no guarantee that Williams will be back in Atlanta, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him on the 26-man roster, once again barely playing, at some point in 2024.