A hometown hurler’s rise continues.
On the final day of Spring Training in 2014, Boston Red Sox prospect Williams Jerez received a phone call that would chance the course of his career — he was told to meet with director of player development Ben Crockett.
The Grand Street Campus alum — considered the top New York City outfield prospect since Manny Ramirez — had struggled to hit pro pitching. He had yet to progress above short-season A ball and owned a .221 batting average with a .529 on-base plus slugging in three pro seasons.
Even so, he was not nervous about the meeting.
“They told me, ‘We are not here to release you. We are here to make a change for you,’ ” Jerez said. “They said they were going to convert me to pitcher. I was going to pitch.”
The 23-year-old Jerez had primarily been a hurler growing up in the Dominican Republic. But when he and his sister moved to the United States at 17 years old to be with their parents, he took the opportunity to try the outfield full time.
“When I was younger, I was pitching,” he said. “But I decided to play outfield because, as a young guy, you have more activity in the outfield. Pitching is different. You pitch one day and then you wait like two or three days more to pitch again.”
The Red Sox decided his arm strength would best serve the team on the mound — and it appears the organization was correct.
He was their minor-league pitcher of the year in 2015 after posting a 2.54 earned run average with 86 strikeouts in just under 89 innings between single-A Greenville, high-A Salem, and double-A Portland in 2015.
The southpaw, who is currently with Portland, started the week with a 3.68 earned run average in eight outings. He has been especially tough on left-handed hitters, and his excitement about his new opportunity is still evident.
“I enjoy it,” Jerez said. “There is a lot of good competition there. I just want to do the best I can. I’m just trying to put the hitters in a difficult position and make it look easy. But it’s not easy. You have to try to make it look easy. But it’s not easy.”
Jerez’s fastball is in the low 90s and tops out at 97 mph, and he has some natural movement. He also mixes in a slider with a sharp break and a changeup that is still a work in progress. The scouting report compliments his work ethic and desire to learn.
This past offseason, the Red Sox added Jerez to the team’s 40-man roster. Jerez won’t just get a salary increase — he is now just a phone call away from the big leagues.
“I did not expect it,” he said. “But I was happy. I was really happy. When they tell me that, I said I was going to work harder now. So I’m trying to be better and better. I’m trying to be consistent. I’m here, trying to be the best I can. And you know, one day, I’ll probably be up there.”