Kendall Williams moved from his home in Olive Branch, Mississippi to attend IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida after the fall semester of his high school sophomore year in January 2017.
He relocated by himself, moving away from his family in hopes of furthering his baseball skills. His decision to attend the well-regarded preparatory boarding school has paid off, as Williams, a 6-foot-6, 208-pound right-handed pitcher, has developed into one of the top high school baseball players in the country.
Baseball America ranks the Vanderbilt commit as the 17th-best prep prospect in the 2019 MLB draft class.
“I told my dad that this is the place I need to go to get me where I want to be,” Williams said. “This gives me the best shot. We made it happen, and I’ve been happy ever since and have made big strides forward.”
The prep right-hander throws from a high three-quarter arm slot and has a repertoire consisting of a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup and breaking pitch.
His fastballs topped out in the mid-90s on the summer showcase circuit. He throws his two-seamer on the inside half of the plate to right-handed batters and on the outer half to lefty hitters. This offseason, Williams is working on throwing a backdoor two-seamer to right-handers, he said.
“It’s one of the hardest pitches to throw in baseball I think,” Williams said.
Williams said he needs to have more confidence in his changeup and that it’s a developing pitch.
His outpitch is his breaking ball. He originally threw a 12-6 curveball but as he’s gained arm strength and continued to refine the offering, it’s developed more into a slider, Williams said.
“I vary the way I throw it in certain counts,” he said. “If I am trying to get it over the plate early in the count for a strike, I usually throw a 12-6 curveball. But if I’m trying to strike someone out, it’s more of a slider.”
Williams participated in multiple showcase events over the summer, including East Coast Pro, Perfect Game National Showcase and Perfect Game All-American Classic. He took a break from throwing after the All-American Classic on Aug. 12.
Williams, who’s added about 15 pounds of muscle to his frame this offseason, resumed his throwing program on Nov. 4 and is tossing the ball three days a week from 110 feet. He’s also working on incorporating the lower half of his body into his delivery.
His senior season begins with exhibition contests at the end of February before the regular season kicks off March 1.
Scouts will flock to Florida to watch the prep hurler throw this spring. In June, he will have to decide between Vanderbilt and professional baseball, as he has the potential to go early in the draft.
Williams said he “would not go back and change” his decision to attend IMG Academy and believes “ultimately it will pay off,” even though he had to move away from his family.
“It’s surreal,” Williams said. “I never thought I’d be in these shoes as a young kid. Now that I’m here, it’s really bittersweet because I know that I put all this work in throughout my whole life for this one goal.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t change one little thing. It’s a great feeling knowing all the hard work I’ve put in has paid off.”
(Photo courtesy of Kendall Williams)
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, Bleacher Report and MLB Trade Rumors, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.”