Scouting Yankees Prospect #21: Mason Williams

The New York Yankees selected outfielder Mason Williams in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of West Orange High School in Florida. Once a top prospect, he's had two straight disappointing seasons but the Yankees still had faith in him and put him on the 40-man roster this offseason, and that leap of faith looks like it could pay off with how Williams has responded early on.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Mason Williams
Position: Centerfield
DOB: August 21, 1991
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 165
Bats: Left
Throws: Right

He hit just .223 with Double-A Trenton last year with a career-low .593 OPS. While the numbers were downright discouraging, what was perhaps even more alarming to some was that it was his third straight season with declining numbers.

"Last season was last season," Williams said stoically. "I learned a lot. I learned the most I've ever learned in my previous years of being here. It's in the past now though, it's over.

"I learned a lot of things about what I'm good at, what I'm not good at, and what I need to work on. From failing I think I learned the most. In life to learn the most you've got to fail and you've got to go through some adversity to come out from it and learn from it."

Hidden behind the career numbers and the obvious downward trend statistically is a player who has put on weight, lost weight, hit for power, attempted to bunt and steal, struggled to make contact, and more. The numbers haven't lied in one very specific regard; he has been and is still trying to find himself as a ballplayer.

"I don't think I lost my identity, I just think I struggled." he insisted. "I feel like a lot of players struggle in this game and you're going to struggle. It's a game of failure and I had a season that wasn't up to par with me and what I'd want, but like I said it's in the past and it's over."

Looking to turn the page on his disappointing 2014 campaign, though his struggles were highly publicized the Yankees still believed in his long-term potential, so much so that they put him on the 40-man roster this offseason anyway. While it would be a confidence booster to some to get protected like that when the numbers don't necessarily support the decision, Williams insists his confidence hasn't exactly wavered despite the dipping production.

"Obviously it felt good but I know what type of player I am and what type of player I can be, and the confidence level stayed with me the same with me being on the 40-man or not being on the 40-man," he exclaimed. "I believe in myself the same. I have faith and I'm going to continue to work hard."

The work he has put in lately is obvious. He reported to camp a lot lighter this year, nearly twenty pounds lighter, and he looks a lot more explosive in the field and at the plate.

"I lost some weight this offseason," he admitted. "I wasn't overweight during the season [last year]. I felt fine during the season but I've lost some weight and I feel fine. I feel great."

He has looked great in camp too. He hit a more than respectable .313 over in big league camp this Spring Training and slugged .625 in his limited at-bats.

"It went good," he said of big league camp. "I feel like I did a lot of things for myself. I told myself to go out there and have fun, enjoy my time and learn as much as possible. I feel like I did most of those things.

"I had fun. I let the game come to me and I didn't try to rush, I didn't try to do too much, and I didn't try to press. I just let the game come to me and it worked out."

Whether playing at a higher weight in previous years affected him or if he lost his identity as a ballplayer was part of the reason for his struggles are points that can be debated -- he also has been working his way back from shoulder surgery nearly two years ago too and that has impacted his game as well -- but what isn't up for much debate is that when Williams struggled he did try to force his way out of his slumps.

"Yeah maybe and at times absolutely," he admitted. "I think there were times where I was really scuffling and I really wanted to get out of it but I wasn't going to have one swing and all of the sudden get out of a slump.

"I felt like that was a part of it last year, pressing too much. But like I've said that's in the past and I don't want to talk about it."

Forgetting about the player he has been in recent seasons and focused solely on the player he is right now and will be in the coming years, Williams has looked like a completely different player in recent months.

"I feel fine. I'm seeing the ball real well right now. I feel like I need to continue to recognize the pitches early. I feel like if I don't recognize pitches early I'm not going to have success so I need to recognize pitches early and stay within my game."

Staying within his game is priority number one. It was a little too often that Williams could be seen muscling up at the plate in previous years in an attempt to hit home runs rather than just let his power play out. Now he is focused on utilizing his greatest strengths more and that's his defense and speed, and he's even getting back to bunting for base hits.

"Yeah absolutely, small ball," he said with a smile. "That's a huge part of my game; [bunting], base running, defense, and swinging the bat. It means a lot to me.

"Last year I'd say I shied away from it because I was struggling and I wanted to hit my way out of it. But sometimes you might need those bunt base hits just to help you mentally and it can do a lot for a team. I need to be able to put pressure on defenses and win some of these games, and that's what I want to do."

Physically he looks better than he has in some time and mentally he seems in a much better place too. In fact, he is starting to again resemble the top prospect he once was not all that long ago.

"I feel like I'm right where I need to be right now. There's still work to do [though]. There's still work to do and I'm taking care of it right now. I'm ready to get the season going," he concluded.

Year

Team

AVG

AB

2B

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

2014 Trenton .223 507 18 5 40 67 21 47 68 .290 .304
2013 Trenton .153 72 3 1 4 7 0 1 18 .164 .264
2013 Tampa .261 406 21 3 24 56 15 39 61 .327 .350
2012 Tampa .277 83 3 3 7 13 1 3 14 .302 .422
2012 Charleston .304 276 19 8 28 55 19 21 33 .359 .489
2011 Staten Island .349 269 11 3 31 42 28 20 41 .395 .468
2010 GCL Yankees .222 18 0 0 0 0 1 1 4 .263 .222


Batting and Power. For all of his lack of success hitting in recent seasons the fact is Williams still has the two basics to be a high-average hitter; plus bat speed and a willingness to use the whole field. He even shows plus plate discipline and pitch recognition at times but both those areas of his game can evade him when he presses at the plate and tries to do too much, and that has been his biggest issue the past couple of years. Like most young hitters he is still learning to find the balance between his natural aggressiveness at the plate and his advanced patience too. Despite being a smallish leadoff hitter type, he shows average big league power potential.

Base Running and Speed. Williams is a plus runner speed-wise but he hasn't yet transferred his natural aggressive hitting approach to the same kind of forceful style on the base paths. He can get quite gun shy stealing bases for long stretches after being picked off and that kind of lack of confidence and indecisiveness can have a negative snowball effect. He is still learning to mentally let go of those failures. Once he builds up a reliever's mentality and realizes that failure is part of the game, and begins to take more chances, he could have some special stolen base totals but will also get caught a bit more often than somebody with his speed should.

Defense. With plus range and great instincts Williams is already a Gold Glove caliber defensive centerfielder even though the pure arm strength is more above average than plus. The Yankees have begun playing him more in the corner outfield spots to increase his versatility and with that have come some growing pains since he's not accustomed to playing there as much. He's still a very good defender in right and left but he will have the occasional gaffe as he continues to get more reps there.

Projection. Despite his lack of on the field production in recent seasons Williams has always safely projected as a big league reserve outfield at minimum given his plus defensive abilities and versatility, plus speed, and above average bunting abilities, and that safe projection still very much exists today. However, he has quite a bit more hitting potential than he's shown thus far and has the kind of average power potential to perhaps become a big league everyday centerfielder and leadoff hitter cut in the mold of a Kenny Lofton type. That ceiling exists but not pressing at the plate and being more patient not only in each at-bat and in each game but even with his own production over the long haul are needed for him to tap that kind of potential.

ETA. 2016. Williams is slated for Double-A Trenton again this season. Currently on the 40-man roster, a strong showing in Trenton could potentially land him in the Bronx sometime this season should the need arise but ideally the Yankees would most likely prefer a full minor league season for him first to build up some confidence.


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