Henry Williams was an “under-the-radar player” coming out of the Connecticut high school ranks in 2019, he said. He didn’t receive much MLB draft interest as a right-handed prep pitcher and knew it was best to honor his commitment to Duke University.
Playing for Duke was his life-long dream, as he grew up regularly watching the men’s basketball team play on TV, he said. As the recruiting process for baseball ramped up, he realized Duke had an atmosphere that he could thrive in under head coach Chris Pollard.
Attending Duke has paid off for Williams. Although he missed time with injuries in his first two years, he has made strides on the mound to develop into a well-regarded prospect with plenty of upside. Scouts project Williams as a potential first-round pick in the 2022 MLB draft.
“The goal isn’t where my name’s called on draft day,” Williams said. “If my team is winning, putting together a quality season, and making a deep postseason run, that only helps me. I want to eliminate expectations and trust that the process shapes out how it’s supposed to. I can only control what I can control.”
As a freshman, Williams made one start in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He recorded just two outs in his first collegiate start before Duke removed him from the game due to soreness.
Last year, Williams opened the season as Duke’s No. 2 starter. He posted a 3.65 ERA with 45 strikeouts and 10 walks allowed in 37 innings in eight appearances. Although he pitched well, an injury caused him to miss about two months of the season.
Williams hopes the injury is behind him and that he can pitch an entire season in 2022. He is fully healthy and dedicated time in the offseason to refining his mechanics.
In the offseason, Williams trained at Premier Pitching Performance in St. Louis. Williams dived into his mechanics, finding areas he needed to clean up and where he could be more efficient with his delivery.
He believes the tweaks he made will help him remain healthy and pitch deeper into starts.
“For me, it was kind of a mental thing with simplifying my mechanics and working on direction,” Williams said. “I also worked on getting the lower half going first. It wasn’t a huge change, but it made major improvements to the quality arm mechanics. For me, it was all about direction and making sure everything was working together.”
Williams is a 6-foot-5, 200-pound right-handed pitcher who throws a four-seam fastball, slurve and changeup from a low three-quarters arm slot and a repeatable and athletic delivery.
He pitches off his low-90s fastball that has hit 95 mph in fall ball and features arm side run. With his low-effort delivery and size, Williams’ fastball likely hasn’t reached its top velocity yet.
Besides his fastball, Williams throws a breaking pitch that is a mix between a curveball and a slider. Some days, the pitch resembles more of a curveball with quality depth, while other times, it has more horizontal movements and looks like a slider. The breaking pitch generates plenty of swings and misses.
Williams doesn’t mind the two variants of his breaking pitch, as he looks more at the results and not the pitch’s metrics, he said. His changeup features plenty of potential and displays arm-side movement.
When healthy, Williams cites his ability to pitch deep into games as the biggest strength in his game.
“It’s not something you can necessarily quantify or explain how you do it, but I have been able to get through lineups and roll-over lineups,” Williams said. “That is a challenging thing to do. Hitters are really good at this level and even better at the next level. Being able to make adjustments in-game, understand what is and isn’t working, and how to get guys out is important.”
Last year, Duke won its final eight regular-season games. The ninth-seeded Blue Devils continued that momentum into postseason play as they captured their first ACC Tournament under the current tournament format.
Duke won one game in the NCAA Regional before being eliminated last year. This season, the Blue Devils hope to make a deeper run. Williams will play a key role as Duke’s top starter this season.
“It’s a completely different group and a different team dynamic than last season,” Williams said. “This year, we are returning a really, really good weekend staff, and the bullpen is deep. The lineup is a little younger. The emphasis will be more on pitching, but that is not to say that I don’t trust our guys to get it done at the plate. We have all we need to succeed, so we have to trust in that.”
You can read more of Henry Williams’ comments on his development into a top MLB draft prospect HERE.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.