The Phillies have signed former Cardinals outfielder Justin Williams to a minor league contract, according to the team’s transactions log at MLB.com. The Roc Nation Sports client has been invited to big league camp, whenever Spring Training gets underway. He was eligible to sign during the lockout by virtue of going unclaimed on outright waivers and electing minor league free agency at the end of the 2021 season.
Also joining the organization are right-hander James Marvel, infielder Drew Maggi, catcher Karl Ellison and first baseman Joe Genord. There are no Major League Spring Training invites listed for that quartet, though Marvel, who has some limited MLB experience, and minor league veteran Maggi could still end up there down the line.
Williams, 26, is the most notable name of the bunch. The former second-round pick (D-backs, 2013) has been involved in a pair of notable trades in the past — first going from Arizona to Tampa Bay in exchange for Jeremy Hellickson and second going from Tampa to St. Louis as one of the headliners in the Tommy Pham deal. Williams was a well-regarded prospect at all three stops and has had plenty of minor league success, but he’s yet to put things together in the big leagues.
With the Rays, Williams received only one lone plate appearance in 2018, and it wasn’t until this past season in 2021, when he received any kind of real look in St. Louis. The Cards gave him 137 plate appearances over the course of 51 games in ’21, but Williams batted just .160/.270/.261 while fanning in a third of his plate appearances. Williams walked in 12.4% of those plate appearances, however, and when he did make contact, it was quite loud. His 92.1 mph average exit velocity is excellent, and 52.1% of his batted balls had at least a 95 mph exit velocity.
Williams hits the ball on the ground too often, but his penchant for hard contact has been interesting to scouts throughout his minor league tenure. The grounder-heavy output at the plate has limited him to a career-high 14 home runs, but he’s a career .294/.340/.438 hitter in the minors — including a .272/.330/.442 slash in parts of three Triple-A seasons. Defensively, he’s limited to the outfield corners and posted roughly average marks in 294 innings last year (+1 DRS, -0.5 UZR, -1 OAA).
Turning to the 28-year-old Marvel, he’s spent his entire pro career to date with the Pirates organization, who called him up to the big leagues and gave him four starts during the 2019 season. That brief cup of coffee didn’t go well, as Marvel was tagged for 16 runs in 17 1/3 innings while posting just a 9-to-6 K/BB ratio.
Marvel had a terrific minor league season in 2019, pitching to a combined 2.94 ERA in 162 1/3 frames between Double-A and Triple-A, but he was nevertheless passed through waivers at the end of the season. He didn’t make the Pirates’ 60-man player pool in 2020, and he struggled in his return effort in Triple-A in 2021, logging a 5.26 ERA in 131 2/3 frames. Even with that rough ’21 campaign, Marvel has a career 4.45 ERA in Triple-A and a career 3.82 mark through the minors as a whole. He doesn’t throw particularly hard or miss many bats, but Marvel typically registers grounder rates around 50% with low walk rates.
The 32-year-old Maggi nearly made his MLB debut with the Twins last season. However, after selecting Maggi’s contract late in September, Minnesota surprisingly did not give the 11-year minor league veteran the opportunity to get into a game and make that long-awaited debut. It was an unfortunate footnote in a generally dismal Twins season. Maggi, who has ample experience at shortstop, third base and second base, is a career .263/.362/.401 hitter in parts of five Triple-A seasons and will hope to finally step into a big league game at some point with the Phils this season.
Genord, 25, was the Mets’ ninth-round pick as recently as 2019 but was released last August after hitting .203/.264/.353 in 227 plate appearances at the High-A level, where he was already older than the average competition he was facing. Ellison, 26, went undrafted out of college and has spent two seasons with the independent Lake Erie Crushers of the Frontier League. He hit .256/.303/.422 there last season.