The Cardinals have been granted a fourth minor league option on outfielder Justin Williams, as first reported by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via Twitter). President of baseball ops John Mozeliak confirmed as much in an afternoon call with reporters.
The extra minor league option might have dampened Williams’ chances of making the club more substantially under normal circumstances, but today’s Harrison Bader injury news puts Williams more squarely in the mix for a spot. With Bader sidelined anywhere from four to six weeks due to a forearm issue, Dylan Carlson will likely slide over to center field, giving the trio of Williams, Lane Thomas and Austin Dean a greater chance of making the roster.
Williams, 25, was acquired along with Genesis Cabrera and Roel Ramirez in the trade that sent Tommy Pham to the Rays. He’s logged just seven MLB plate appearances but is a career .271/.333/.423 hitter in 581 Triple-A plate appearances and is batting .259/.333/.407 in 30 trips to the dish this spring. Williams’ numbers to this point in his career don’t show it, but scouting reports throughout his minor league tenure have pegged him for plus raw power and bat speed. That power has been curbed in large part by a penchant for hitting the ball on the ground; Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel wrote at FanGraphs in January 2020 that Williams had the second-best exit velocity in the Cardinals’ system and the lowest launch angle.
Williams was one of several players awaiting ruling from an arbiter on whether he was out of options or had a fourth minor league option. The process, as is the case with most debates between MLB and the MLBPA, took longer than expected, but rulings have been filing in for the past day. The discrepancy stems from the truncated length of the 2020 season and how it should be treated with regard to fourth option eligibility.
Typically, fourth options are granted to players who have exhausted all three of their minor league options before being healthy enough to play five “full” seasons of pro ball. The league defines “full” as 90-plus days on an active Major League or Minor League roster (not the injured list), but last year’s 60-game season lasted just 67 days, and there were no active roster/injured list distinctions at teams’ alternate training sites.