FORT MYERS, Fla. – Standing under a cloudless sky on a chilly late December morning in southwest Florida, Justin Williams was quite simply as happy as a clam.
Williams, a top third base/outfield prospect out of Houma, La., was standing behind one of the dugouts on Field 5 at the Boston Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex Wednesday morning, having just completed a pair of workout sessions at the Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event.
Williams was finally back playing baseball for the first time since he took part in this summer’s USA Baseball team trials in North Carolina, having spent the fall playing football as a junior on the Terrebonne High School team in Louma, La.
“It just feels great to actually get back out on the field. It feels great to get back on the diamond,” a smiling Williams said Wednesday. “I’ve been working out doing cardio and agility (drills) and I hit every now and then with my dad (Michael) but nothing real important like this.”
The 2011 PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event is hosting nearly 500 prospects over its three day run, which concludes Friday with as many as four Top Prospect Games. It is the second major PG underclass showcase Williams has attended, adding to his experience at the 2011 PG Junior National Showcase held at City of Palms Park here in June. He was named to the Top Prospect List at that event.
“I’m hoping to hone my skills; I just want to get better,” Williams said of his reasons for attending the showcases. “My dad always tells me that the more you play the better you get.”
Michael Williams was a standout baseball, football and basketball player during his high school years and Justin’s mother, Paula, also played high school sports. They’ve parented a 16-year-old son who has grown to 6-feet, 2-inches packed with a solid 210 pounds, and who Perfect Game has ranked as the nation’s No. 18 top prospect in the class of 2013.
Williams played basketball in junior high and just played his final season of football this fall.
“Baseball is my first love,” he said. “I played football to stay in shape – I really didn’t like it all that much – and basketball was just something I did for fun. I’m just going to stick with baseball now. I want to pay more attention to baseball and the areas I need to work on, and I’m going to work on that so I can become a better player.”
Baseball is fairly new to Williams, and he just completed his first full summer of baseball playing for Coach Chad Raley with Marucci Elite. It was an eye-opening summer for both Williams and Raley.
“It’s been a great experience,” Williams said. “I’ve seen that there is talent everywhere … and Louisiana is like a ghost town compared to where we go with Marucci.”
“He’s probably got the most raw talent I’ve ever coached in a kid,” Raley said Wednesday. “He’s only been playing baseball two or three years, and now he’s giving up football so he can go to Jupiter (the PG World Championship) next year and go to some of the big events next summer.”
Williams began the summer of 2011 playing for Marucci Elite at both the 17u/18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational and the 16u PG-EC Invitational in Marietta, Ga., and later played in the grand trifecta: the PG WWBA 2012 Grads or 17u National Championship, the PG WWBA 2013 Grads or 16u National Championship and the PG WWBA 2014 Grads or 15u National Championship, all in Marietta. His commitment to football kept him from playing on either of the Marucci Elite squads that won the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship and the PG WWBA World Championship in October.
“He did things on the field last summer that I had never seen before, and he was only 15 last summer,” Raley said. “He hit balls out (of the park) with the wood (bats) that just kind of baffled me, surprised me that he had that type of raw power.”
After completing his two workout sessions Wednesday morning, Williams joined a PG 9-Red squad that included several other highly ranked prospects including C/3B/OF Michael Barash, committed to Louisiana State and ranked No. 130 and top 2014 SS/3B Gregory Deichmann, another LSU commit who is ranked No. 36 in his class, is also on the PG 9-Red roster.
Like Barash and Deichmann, Williams committed to play at LSU, a dream come true for born-and-raised Louisiana boy.
“LSU has been my favorite team since I watched them on television and it’s a great honor to be committed there since I’m from Louisiana,” Williams said.
Williams still has two high school seasons remaining before he can even think about playing for head coach Paul Mainieri at LSU. But he’s not afraid to look ahead, at least as far ahead as the 2012 Perfect Game All-American Classic.
“That is what I’ve been wanting,” he said. “My goal this year is to try to get all-state (Louisiana high school baseball) because last year I got all-district, and that’s not really anything. But my ultimate goal is (Perfect Game) All-American, but, you know, it’s tough.”
In the meantime, Williams will keep exhibiting his still raw skills to the professional scouts who attend the same Perfect Game events he’s at. And he doesn’t want to disappoint.
“My expectation every time is to play to my full potential,” Williams said. “If my best (on any particular day) happens to be my worst that day, that’s just how it is sometimes.”