CLEARWATER, Fla. — Nick Williams, dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and ripped jeans, stepped into the Phillies clubhouse Friday morning with a folded piece of paper in his hand. He had an announcement.
"I got released," Williams said.
The outfield prospect smiled. The Phillies, two weeks from departing Florida, demoted the future to minor-league camp. Williams packed his locker at Spectrum Field. So did J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro.
They were upset; the luxuries of spacious lockers and a per diem at big-league camp had ceased. But all three knew this would happen, and they departed with a sense that they belonged. It is not unreasonable to imagine a time in 2017 when Williams, Crawford and Alfaro share a field in South Philadelphia.
For now, they are IronPigs.
"This year, I felt a lot more comfortable," Crawford said. "I'm ready to go. It'll be a fun time."
The Phillies asked Crawford, their top prospect, to add bulk during the winter. Crawford, 22, could not drive the ball against triple-A pitching. He said he added 5-10 pounds of muscle. A scout who saw Crawford this spring noted his increased strength.
Crawford had one extra-base hit in 29 at-bats this spring. He walked three times and struck out twice. The real proof will be in how Crawford adjusts to advanced pitchers.
"They know how to get you out," he said. "A lot of them have been there, they've been in The Show, and they know how to get people out. I just have to go up there, stay with my plan and stay within myself."
Alfaro, 23, had just eight at-bats in Grapefruit League play. He impressed while with Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. It is the last year Alfaro can be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers, so he is expected to spend most of the season at triple-A Lehigh Valley to squeeze what's left of his development time.
He projects as the catcher of the future.
"I don't want to be down there anymore," Alfaro said. "For me, I wanted to break camp with the team the last day of spring training. That's not going to happen right now. I'm just going to go down there and keep playing hard."
Williams made a strong impression in camp. He worked with new hitting coach Matt Stairs on a more relaxed approach at the plate. The 23-year-old outfielder struck out seven times but accumulated four walks in 32 plate appearances. Spring statistics are skewed, but Williams took pride in the walks, a point of emphasis. He walked four times in his final 290 plate appearances last season at Lehigh Valley.
"I'm starting to see pitches a lot better," Williams said. "That's unbelievable. ... Sometimes I smirk on the first pitch, it's offspeed, and I can take it."
Williams said he often asked Stairs questions and the hitting coach always countered with an answer. Stairs did not alter much of Williams' swing; he just wanted Williams to better control his movement. It became a daily topic of conversation.
"He planted it in my head," Williams said.
He called the spring "a big confidence booster," especially how last season ended without a promotion to the majors. That is, again, within reach this season.
"I'm trying to not think of the big leagues," Williams said. "I just want to go out and play hard and do me. Whatever I can to help the team win. This spring made me feel like I can play here. Whenever that time is, I have no idea. Going through this spring made me truly believe I can play here."
Same with Crawford.
"Oh yeah, definitely," he said. "I feel like I can compete with all of these guys."