With another highly touted prospect at the plate, Ronnie Williams’ adrenaline kicked in.
Williams was a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher for American Senior (Fla.) High School, garnering attention from major league teams. He got “super-excited” to face Milton Ramos, American Heritage’s star player also destined for a professional career.
Ramos talked some trash before the at-bat. He flew out to end it.
“Their field’s pretty small,” Williams said. “They have like a softball field, so he’s like I hit you to the wall and I was like, ‘No, no you didn’t, bro.’ We always joke around about it.”
In between the trash talk and the flyout, Williams was clocked at 97 mph.
With each mid-90s fastball that season, he knew his future was on the mound.
After his senior year, Williams was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft. Two years later, Williams is putting together the best season of his career with the State College Spikes.
Williams (4-2, 2.72 ERA) leads the team’s starting pitchers in innings pitched (46 1/3), strikeouts (33) and WHIP (0.95).
Williams said his success stems from his work during extended spring training, where he focused on improving his fastball command down in the zone.
“That can always get better,” Williams said.
Williams didn’t take pitching seriously until his senior year of high school.
That’s when he started to consistently throw 90 mph fastballs. As a junior, he usually threw 88.
But his emotions took over during one game — the opposing team was heckling him and scouts were in attendance — and the right-hander saw a jump in velocity to 93.
His father tried to get his attention to calm him down.
But during one at-bat, after the opposing hitter fouled off pitch after pitch, Williams injured his arm.
“I reached back to try to throw even harder, and I just felt like a little strain, like my arm just like fell,” Williams said. “And I went into the dugout crying. I thought I tore it. I thought I had to get Tommy John (surgery).”
It was only an elbow strain.
And he came back throwing harder as a senior.
His fastball often sat in the mid-90s before climbing to 97 that day against Ramos, a middle infielder who was the New York Mets’ third-round pick in the 2014 draft.
“Ever since then, I got the feel for it, and I learned how to throw that hard and control it at the same time,” Williams said.
The transition from high school to professional baseball wasn’t easy.
Williams went 0-5 with a 4.71 ERA as an 18-year-old in the Gulf Coast League.
In his third season in the Cardinals organization, Williams has been dominant at times. During a five-start stretch this season, he limited opponents to six earned runs in 35 1/3 innings.
He’s also allowed just seven walks in seven starts.
“It’s coming along pretty well,” Williams said. “I just want to keep getting better and better every day.”
Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez has seen a handful of players become leaders.
“There’s some guys taking ownership of it,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said Tommy Edman and Ryan McCarvel have both led quietly. They’ve also been productive.
Edman is hitting .295 and leads the team in runs scored (30), hits (36) and walks (25). He is also second on the team in doubles (seven), triples (two), home runs (two) and stolen bases (eight).
McCarvel has provided power, hitting a team-high five home runs and driving in a team-high 24 runs.
The Spikes had off Wednesday and start a three-game series against Williamsport at 7:05 p.m. Thursday.
It will be a battle between the league’s top two teams.
State College (25-13) owns the best record in the New York-Penn League, good for a one-game lead over Williamsport (24-14) in the Pinckney Division. Hudson Valley and Lowell are tied for the third-best record in the league at 22-16, and both sit in first place in their respective divisions.
The Crosscutters are the hottest team in the league as they have won 14 of their last 16 games.
Williamsport is riding a six-game winning streak into the series opener at Bowman Field on Thursday. The Spikes will host the Crosscutters on Friday and Saturday.