Originally drafted by the Phillies, McWilliams was part of a couple of trades as a prospect, going to the Diamondbacks for Jeremy Hellickson before later being flipped to the Rays as part of the Steven Souza Jr. trade.
In 2019, he got his first taste of Triple-A, struggling mightily at that level, putting up an ERA of 8.18 in 44 innings there. After the pandemic wiped out the minors in 2020, McWilliams reached free agency and signed a Major League deal with the Mets. Yet again, McWilliams struggled, throwing 8 1/3 innings in Triple-A and getting shelled to the tune of a 10.80 ERA. He was designated for assignment and claimed by the Padres, struggling some more before being DFA’d again and clearing waivers.
Ghiroli recently wrote about McWilliams, providing insight into how all this came to be and why teams continue to be interested in the hurler. While the full story is worth a read for all the details, the short version is that McWilliams became a disciple of advanced analytics, greatly improving the speed, spin and shape of his pitches. However, he became overwhelmed in a sea of data and lost the ability to locate his pitches, developing a condition that is commonly known as “the yips.” The data certainly backs that up, as he had a 20.2% walk rate in the minors last year. (Average is usually in the vicinity of 8%.)
McWilliams is now changing his approach and hoping to make the journey back from his struggles, much like Tyler Matzek of the Braves. The yips kept Matzek out of baseball for years, but he made a remarkable comeback that led all the way to a World Series title last year. The Reds are hoping that McWilliams can similarly overcome these obstacles and find the best version of himself. The club has been primarily focused on cost-cutting recently, which involved subtracting Wade Miley, Sonny Gray and Amir Garrett from the pitching staff. Taking a flier on a pitcher like McWilliams is a no-risk way of trying to recoup some of those losses without a significant financial investment. McWilliams is only 26 years old and has yet to make his MLB debut. He also has a couple of option years remaining, meaning he could be a valuable depth option for the club if he can crack the roster.