Southern University center fielder Javeyan Williams has all the qualities a good leadoff hitter needs.
Williams gets on base almost 50% of the time, he can run like the wind, and the term “leader” defines his intangible effect on his teammates.
That’s why coach Kerrick Jackson bats him ninth in the order.
While seemingly counterintuitive, it’s working pretty well for the Jaguars (18-15), who doubled their win total from last year in Tuesday’s 7-2 upset of No. 8 LSU and have the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s best in-conference record at 10-2.
Jackson likes the idea of having Williams at the plate with the top of the order following him. He said it’s like having an extra leadoff hitter on the roster when the lineup turns over.
“Plenty of people ask me why he hits in the nine hole,” said Jackson, in his second year at Southern. “There’s a lot of success there and a level of comfort there with him. There may be a situation later in the year when we move him up but for right now, he’s doing a good job in that spot.”
A “good job” translates to Williams batting .400, second only to teammate Hunter David among SWAC batters, and having a .481 on-base percentage. He’s got 22 stolen bases, including one against LSU, without being caught.
As if to prove the point, Williams sparked a two-run rally against LSU in the seventh inning after LSU scored to cut Southern’s lead to 5-1 in the top of the inning. Williams led off with a single, Tyler LaPorte’s attempted sacrifice bunt turned into a single, the runners advance on a wild pitch and scored on Ashanti Wheatley’s two-run single.
There hasn’t been a peep out of Williams, a senior from Breaux Bridge who batted .286 as the leadoff hitter during last year’s 9-33 season.
“I’m just trusting in coach’s plan,” Williams said. “I never question why I’m in the nine hole. It never occurred to me to move up because I know I can be a solid piece at the bottom. When we need something, I’ll be able to provide it. I’m embracing it and trying to do the best I can for my team.
“He told me it’s not because I’m the worst hitter, but another leadoff guy. Trusting his wisdom has paid off.”
Williams has scored 33 runs — an average of one per game, which has helped leadoff hitter LaPorte lead the SWAC in runs batted in with 40. LaPorte’s on-base percentage is .505, which suggests the lineup is working well.
Jackson knew Williams would be on board with the placement. Williams suffered through the team’s struggles as a freshman and sophomore in Roger Cador’s final two seasons as coach. Even though the results didn’t come last season, Williams knew the Jaguars were on the right track and shared his feelings with his new coach.
“Last year he came to me and basically told me how much he enjoyed the year, that he was looking forward to learning more,” Jackson said. “He’s been a sponge, whether teaching him about defensive reads off the bat or offensively how to do some things, bunt or whatever the case may be.
“He’s always eager to learn, be the best he can be, and it’s infectious with the rest of the team because he has a great personality. He’s a natural leader and people follow that.”
Williams said his hitting really started to come around at the end of last season and his off-season work got him off to a good start in 2019.
“I know I’m doing better,” Williams said. “(Jackson) taught me a lot of things and they started clicking toward the end of the season. I worked hard in the off season, and I was able to play ball, play downhill this year. I follow the three things he tells me to do: Get a good pitch to hit, put a good swing on it and go from there.”
In addition to creating runs, Williams prevents them. He saved two runs in a game against Prairie View with dazzling catches in centerfield weekend before last. He’s handled 106 chances without and error and has two assists.
“If we kept WAR (metric) in college baseball, his numbers would be off the charts,” Jackson said. “He steals bases, scores runs, produces runs and he takes away hits. That’s the ultimate player when it comes to WAR stats and he fits that category very well.”