Prospect Taylor Williams nearing return

Hard-throwing right-hander almost back from Tommy John surgery

Prospect Taylor Williams nearing return

PHOENIX -- The finish line is on the horizon for Taylor Williams, who is itching to throw his first pitch in a real game since 2014. The right-handed Brewers prospect threw 25 pitches of live batting practice to a pair of hitters Saturday, and while neither Ryan Cordell's nor Brett Phillips' bat left their shoulders, it represented another step of progress in Williams' road back from Tommy John surgery.

"I'm pretty much normal again," said Williams. "I'm just focusing on what I need to stay focused on. I'm not really worried about the big picture of where I'm at in the process of things."

Spring: Info | Tickets | Schedule | Gear

In that big picture, Williams is one of the Brewers' most interesting prospects, back on the map after missing two full seasons. He was a star of 2014 Spring Training, throwing power fastballs and disappearing sliders in live batting practice, and drawing raves from Brewers hitters. But it was probably too much too soon, Williams says in hindsight, because it led to an elbow injury, an unsuccessful effort to avoid going under the knife, and finally surgery on Aug. 11, 2015.

Williams recovered in time to throw in the instructional league, and was impressive enough -- touching 97 mph, according to one report -- that the Brewers made Williams a surprise addition to their 40-man roster in November, rather than risk losing him in the Rule 5 Draft.

Now the hope is that Williams will be a full participant by the start of the Minor League season.

"Right now, it's just getting through Spring Training and improving every day," Williams said.

Counsell on Williams' outlook

A long development road remains for Williams, who has made just 39 appearances as a professional and has yet to pitch above the Class A Advanced level. Still, given that he will turn 26 in July, it's conceivable that the Brewers could push Williams to the warm weather and humidity of Double-A Biloxi to begin the season.

Minor League assignments, however, will not be set until next month.

"He's got time left on his development, for sure," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He needs to be healthy. That's No. 1. You can't pitch in the big leagues on health limitations, so he has to get that behind him."

Williams is working on a new slider grip this spring, and on refining his curveball and changeup. The fastball remains a weapon, Cordell said after dodging at least one on Saturday that nearly grazed his pullover.

"He mixed in two changeups to me, it's kind of a straight changeup, but you can't really see it out of his hand," Cordell said. "That's a really good pitch. When you can throw that hard and command the inside part of the plate, that sets up everything else."

Is the stuff as good as it was during that eye-opening Spring Training stint in 2014?

"Even better, because he's been working on his secondary [pitches]," Brewers bullpen coach Lee Tunnell said. "It's coming out really well."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.