Williams Jerez pitched just one inning during his high school career.
According to him, it was a perfect frame, but the Grand Street Campus standout from Brooklyn enjoyed patrolling center and right field much more than standing on the mound.
“When I was younger I was a pitcher, but then I transitioned to outfield,” Jerez said. “Outfield was good for me because it was more activity for a young guy. I just wanted to be out in the field, hitting and stuff, and I decided to play outfield.”
Jerez was selected by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2011 draft and played three professional seasons with Short-A Lowell and the Gulf Coast League hitting .221 over those three years as an outfielder.
Before the 2014 season began, Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett sat down with Jerez during extended spring training and suggested a position change.
“Ben Crockett, last year, made a meeting with me and he told me, ‘I want you to try pitching. I think you have a good arm, let’s see how you can do,'” Jerez said. “And that day I said, ‘OK, let’s try, lets do it,’ and from that day on I’ve been doing a really good job.”
Jerez helped the Red Sox capture the GCL championship in 2014, pitching in nine games. He went 3-1 with one save and a 2.22 ERA.
This year marked Jerez’s first full season as a pitcher. The 23-year-old left-hander from the Dominican Republic began his 2015 campaign in Single-A Greenville and finished the season with Double-A Portland, making 41 total relief appearances.
He posted a combined 5-3 record with four saves and four holds between Greenville, High-A Salem, and Portland. He finished the year with a combined 2.54 ERA, striking out a total of 86 batters with 31 walks.
On Saturday, Jerez was named the 2015 Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year, a testament to the southpaw’s dedication to his new position.
“I didn’t expect anything like this,” Jerez said of the honor. “At the end of the season I was at home with my dad and my boss, Ben Crockett, called me and told me, ‘Hey, you’re pitcher of the year,’ and I was surprised that day. I was happy, too, because that was something I didn’t expect.”
Jerez and the other 2015 minor league award winners were honored pregame at Fenway Park Saturday afternoon before the game against the Orioles. The on-field ceremony was extra special for the former outfielder, who said he has always been a Red Sox fan despite living in New York.
“Sometimes when I’m walking in New York, on a New York street, you know people, Yankee fans see me in a Red Sox hat, because when I go to practice outside with my friends I always dress in Red Sox everything,” Jerez said. “And New York Yankees fans are like, ‘Hey, what are you doing here with this?’ And I just stay quiet. When they say that, I just stay quiet and I keep walking.”
Jerez said he had been to Fenway only once before, for his pre-draft workout in 2011. He brought his parents to Boston Saturday to celebrate his achievement.
“My mom and dad, they are here,” Jerez said. “They are happy, too. For my mom, it’s her first time here. My dad came with me in 2011 and now he is here again.”
Crockett, who was also at Fenway on Saturday to help recognize the minor league award recipients, lauded the athleticism Jerez displayed in his pre-draft workout and praised his willingness to change positions.
“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Crockett said. “Somebody with great arm strength. I think he had pitched some in the past as well, but obviously focusing on being an outfielder. In fact, he had his draft workout here and hit a bunch of balls into the [Red Sox] bullpen before we drafted him. Just a great athlete, really hard worker, dedicated. He really bought in when we made the recommendation to him to make that switch. He was all in. That is just a product of his hard work.”
Jerez’s arsenal is comprised of three pitches — a fastball, changeup, and slider, but he said he has been figuring out how to mix things up.
“Sometimes I throw something different trying to confuse to the hitter,” Jerez said. “So that’s good for me, but not good for them. Sometimes I throw a fastball but it’s not a real fastball, it’s something different. … It’s a short time for me pitching, but from last year to this year I’ve learned a lot.”
After spending years in the outfield, Jerez said he now enjoys pitching more than playing other positions. Part of what makes taking the mound so enjoyable for him is the preparation needed before every appearance.
“Pitching is all about working hard on the field, learning a lot, doing your exercise, work out at the gym,” Jerez said. “And learning all the things you got to learn to put in the field when you’re playing. That’s the best part.”