ARLINGTON, Texas – UTA junior RJ Williams has played six different positions in his career.
In an era of baseball where versatility is all the rage, Williams personifies the value of a defensive utility man.
Over his career, Williams has made 39 starts at third base, 31 in centerfield, 19 at shortstop, 10 in rightfield and one at second base.
“The fact that he can play more than one spot – and not just play them but play them well – is a great asset,” UTA head coach Darin Thomas said. “He’s got a chance, if he moved to the outfield, to be one of the better outfielders in the conference defensively and if he stays in the infield it’s the same way there. It is very rare that you can find that guy that can play the outfield and infield so well but he’s one of them.”
A product of Rockwall, Texas, Williams joined the UTA roster after earning all-state honors at Heath High School.
“In high school, I played short mostly,” Williams said. “I played centerfield my freshman year. Third base my junior year and short my senior year. I’ve kind of gotten used to it, playing everywhere.”
A 5-foot-10, 180-pound right-handed hitter, Williams stepped right into the lineup as a freshman in 2015, rotating between third and second base and all three outfield spots.
“It is good to be able to play everywhere,” Williams said. “It allows other guys to get on the field. I like playing everywhere and being able to play everywhere. It gives me a great opportunity at the next level as well.”
Williams hit .242 with 46 starts in 51 games as a freshman, owning eight doubles, one triple, two homers and 16 RBI.
“When he was a freshman, we moved him to centerfield and he was one of the better defensive centerfielders around,” Thomas said. “He has a plus arm. He can really run. He can play short and then last year he played third and I thought he was one of the better defenders in our conference at third base last year. His bat has improved every year and he’s a good baserunner.”
As a sophomore, Williams continued to solidify his role as a unique talent, making 54 starts and playing in all 58 games. He had a .266 average with 10 doubles, three triples, one homer and 24 RBI, stealing nine bases. He improved his OPS from .683 in 2015 to .734.
“That experience from the previous two years has helped a lot, especially being able to get out there and play. We’ve got a great group of returners that have all gotten experience. We are ready to get started.”
In 2016, Williams appears to be primed to secure the third base gig after 35 starts there as a sophomore. With sophomore Josh Minjarez showcasing game-changing defensive ability in 2016 at shortstop, Williams sliding over to the hot corner gives UTA a dynamic left side of the infield.
“Josh is great,” Williams said. “He’s raw and has good skills. He is very good at that position and has a special ceiling.”
Williams joins a veteran infield that includes junior second baseman Christian Hollie and senior slugger Colton Turner at first base. In addition to the ability to play Williams all over the diamond, Thomas has preached defensively flexibility, allowing senior Quintin Rohrbaugh to rotate between the outfield corners and second and third base.
“Having so many veterans willing to play all over is a definite help to the team,” Williams said. “When younger players and newcomers see us go and play multiple positions they want to do it themselves. And if they do get moved it’s not like a shock to them. It’s about finding the best nine and getting them out on the field some way.”
Catchers Brady Cox and Will Olson each have an ability to play third base when not behind the plate and outfielders Phil Berthiaume, Phillip Childs, Aaron Funk and Noah Vaughan each have the ability to play all three outfield posts. Turner, Vaughan and Omar Salinas can each play the outfield and first base.
Along with a six-man senior class that includes Cox behind the dish and Friday-night starter Kadon Simmons, Williams has an ability to point the club in the right direction when the Mavs are faced with the inevitable ups and downs of the season. He has embraced the leadership role that comes from owning 100 career starts over two seasons.
“It’s is definitely awesome to be here and be an upperclassmen,” Williams said. “The leadership is very important to the team and I think especially when you have younger guys, you have to take the reigns and show the way for them. We’ll be gone one day and you want them to continue to better the program and build on what we’ve been doing. It is feels awesome to be in that role and be able to positively impact others.”