The Reds signed the athletic Willems out of Curacao as a projectable 16-year-old without a clear position. After scuffling with a 27-percent K-rate and .234/.290./.281 slash line in his AZL stateside debut, Willems is showing better contact skills and power production in his 2018 Appalachian League campaign. I was able to view Willems for five games in early August and again this fall during Instructional League.
Willems has a loose, handsy, fluid swing with feel for both pull-side power and line-drive contact to the opposite field. His strength and bat speed yield present average power, projecting to 55 at full maturity. An aggressive fastball hitter, Willems showed ability to manipulate the barrel and drive hard stuff, including a home run and opposite field gapper in my looks. He is vulnerable to spin outside the zone, and his free-swinging limits the profile some, but he battles breakers in the zone and was able to make solid with two strikes. The hit tool should reach average, as should the game power – an attractive offensive profile for a middle-of-the-diamond prospect. Unfortunately, Willems instincts and hands at the keystone are presently quite raw, with flimsy footwork on any grounder not hit right to him, stabby hands, and lackluster instincts on the dirt. He grades as a 30 defender at second base, and he should start seeing reps out on LF, where his athleticism, average speed, and 40-grade arm give him a chance.
Willems is the consummate short-season boom/bust-type prospect, as he lacks the defensive acumen to profile as a utility player. Instead, he will either hit his way to a regular role, likely in LF, or find himself in a 4A depth role stalling in the high-minors. His power potential and barrel feel, and his quality of contact will compensate for his fringy approach at the plate. But he’ll need to take a developmental step forward defensively in full season ball to have a shot. Willems profiles as a Role 30 organizational depth piece with a high risk profile on the defensive side of the ball, albeit one with considerable offensive upside.