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Phillies prospect Luke Williams helped Team USA return to the Olympics

The versatile Williams was Team USA's best hitter as it clinched a spot in the Olympics. But a looming promotion to the big leagues would cancel his trip to Japan.

Phillies prospect Luke Williams playing for Team USA in Olympic Qualifying tournament in June.
Phillies prospect Luke Williams playing for Team USA in Olympic Qualifying tournament in June.Read moreCourtesy of USA Baseball

Luke Williams is scheduled to be in Tokyo next month and walk into Olympic Stadium behind the American flag for the opening of the Summer Games.

He said he felt goose bumps last week while helping Team USA secure a spot in the Olympics, and surely those chills will return when he parades into the opening ceremonies.

But Williams — a Phillies prospect who is inching toward the big leagues — will have no complaints if he’s unable to be there, as his trip to the Olympics will get canceled if he’s first promoted to the major leagues.

“It’s a pretty good position to be in,” Williams said Monday morning. “We’ll see what happens. It’s an exciting couple months coming up, and I’m just happy to be in that situation, for sure.”

Williams hit .352 with a .904 OPS in 18 games with triple-A Lehigh Valley before he left last month for Team USA’s Olympic qualifying tournament. Williams, always a good defender who handles nearly every position, was enjoying his best offensive production since being drafted in 2015′s third round.

And that success continued with Team USA. He went 8-for-18 in the tournament as the U.S. won all four games to earn an Olympic berth as baseball returns to the Games for the first time since 2008. The 24-year-old Williams led the team in hits and was tied for the lead in RBIs (5) and total bases (14).

He hit against Canada and Venezuela the same way he did against the Rochester Red Wings and Syracuse Mets. Soon, the Phillies could see if he can do it in the majors. They have a roster move to make before Tuesday’s game after sending Nick Maton to triple A. It could be Williams who is taking his place. The versatile defender would also provide a needed right-handed bat for the bench.

“I’m trying to have high-quality at-bats day in and day out,” Williams said. “I know in the past I’ve had a lot of months where I just had very low-quality at-bats and swinging at a lot of junk. Coming in this year, the big thing was just high-quality at-bats, swing at strikes, get on base, and that all seems to be working for me so far.”

Team USA is open only to players who are not on 40-man rosters, which made Williams — and a cast of former big leaguers — eligible for the tournament in Florida. It was one of Team USA’s last chances to qualify for the Olympics, and it stocked its roster with experience.

Former Phillies reliever David Robertson pitched two games for a staff that included Homer Bailey and Edwin Jackson, who have a combined 34 years of big league time. Former All-Stars Todd Frazier and Matt Kemp joined veterans Jon Jay and Logan Forsythe in the lineup.

Williams might soon be a major leaguer, and his week with Team USA gave him a taste of the talent he’ll be playing with.

“It was pretty awesome. Matt Kemp, he played for the Dodgers, and he was a stud for the Dodgers,” said Williams, who grew up an hour south of Los Angeles. “You get a little starstruck at the beginning, and you get used to it after a little bit. Those guys were so awesome just interacting with them. You just sit back and listen to those guys because they’ve been through a whole lot.”

“The big thing I learned from all those guys was to just be yourself. They preach, ‘You’re here for a reason. You have a skill set that’s elite, and stick to yourself, and be yourself. Go have some fun.’ That was a big thing they preached.”

Williams has played six positions this season at triple A. He’s done everything except pitch, catch, and play first base. The Phillies molded Williams shortly after drafting him into a super-utility player as he had played various positions in high school.

“I love it,” Williams said. “The idea of not knowing where I’m going to be playing that day is kind of exciting for me. It keeps me on my toes. Doing it for the last few years definitely helps me get comfortable with it. I love it.”

Over six minor league seasons, Williams has played seven of nine positions, with the majority of his time coming at third base. He’s two positions short — pitcher and catcher — of playing everything as a professional.

“In 2019, after we clinched in Reading, I went up to our manager, Shawn Williams, and said, ‘Hey, you think I can get all nine in?’” Williams said. “He was all about it. He was like, ‘Yeah. Let’s do it.’ But some people shut that down pretty quickly.”

Williams was in Syracuse, N.Y., last month with the IronPigs when he learned he had been invited to join Team USA. The decision was his to make. It was “a no-doubter,” he said. Williams was told he would be a bench player for Team USA, but he batted leadoff in all four games. It was pretty incredible, he said.

He left the minor leagues for two weeks and helped the U.S. return to the Olympics. But his quest for a gold medal could end before he gets to Japan. This summer, Williams will either become a major leaguer or an Olympian. It’s a good spot to be in.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet because all of this happened so quick,” Williams said. “I think there’s going to be a day later this week where it all kinds of hits me. Just thinking about that opportunity, it’s obviously once in a lifetime.”