Bandits have their own version of The Kid - Justin Williams
BRISBANE Bandits outfielder Justin Williams dreams of lighting up the Major League like his idol and recent Hall of Fame inductee Ken Griffey Jr - and he has the backing of an All Star to do it.
Bandits coach David Nilsson, who became Australia's first MLB All Star in 1999, believes the sky is the limit for the 20-year-old, who hit an equal second-best 10 home runs in the ABL this summer.
Nilsson gushed over Williams's ability while in commentary during the ABL All Stars game in December, saying the American import had some of the best natural power and talent he'd ever seen.
The powerful youngster has been one of the superstars of a fairytale squad this summer.
The Bandits comfortably won the minor premiership with a six-game buffer, and qualified for their first playoff appearance in the sixth season of the revamped national competition.
Nilsson's tone from earlier in the summer towards Williams had not changed, leading into game one of the ABL Championship Series against the Adelaide Bite, at Brisbane's Holloway Field tomorrow night.
"He (Williams) is a gifted athlete - he's only 20, and he has raw athleticism and power," Nilsson told APN.
"He's had high highs and some lows, but I imagine we'll probably see him on TV in a few years."
Coming from an Australian baseball legend like Nilsson, that's high praise indeed.
But Williams, who also has a third-best league average of .342, seems to revel in the pressure moments, like his idol Griffey Jr did.
Griffey Jr, one of the best five-tool players of all time, earned 13 All-Star games, seven Silver Sluggers, the 1997 American League MVP, 10 Gold Gloves for his outstanding work at centre field, and 630 homers.
His legend grew soon after signing his first Major League contract, as a first-rounder, at just 17 in 1987.
Griffey Jr, nicknamed The Kid, showed no nerves during his first batting practice, crushing balls while chatting to the media at the same time.
Team veterans at the Seattle Mariners then remarked he instantly belonged at that level.
There's also a feeling in the Bandits camp regarding Williams, who they picked up from A-Advanced level in the US minor-league system, after playing for the Charlotte Stone Crabs last year, that he too belongs at the highest level.
Williams himself knows the sky is the limit.
"Absolutely. I started this journey with a dream, and each year I'm trying to get closer and closer," he said.
He won't let Nilsson's high praise go to his head, either.
"Anything he says I'm all ears. He went to where I want to be," Williams said.
Griffey Jr's exploits will always drive Williams to reach new heights.
"It's hard to do what he did in the big leagues," Williams said.
"There aren't many guys like him - he was a five-tool player."
People that matter at the Bandits believe there aren't many like Williams, either.