As an over slot fourth round pick in the 2010 draft, the New York Yankees awarded Mason Williams with the largest bonus of their draft class. Two years later, Williams possesses a strong set of tools with quickly developing baseball skills. On a loaded Charleston RiverDogs roster, he is the easiest player to project as at least an average regular at the big league level. The young left-handed hitter fits the prototype of a true centerfielder with top-of-the-order offensive abilities to a tee. Additionally, the fact he has room to grow both physically and mentally points to an even higher ceiling if everything comes together.
Video after the jump.
Listed at an even six feet and 150 pounds, Williams looked an inch or two taller and 20 pounds heavier in person. His wiry frame and present agility should allow him to continue to add strength and size without losing the athleticism which allows him to profile so well in centerfield. Having seen Anthony Gose at the same level as an 18-year old, Williams isn’t quite as gifted athletically as the Blue Jays prospect. However, his being more polished and age appropriate for the level has led to stronger all-around numbers (.308/.355/.496) indicative of a player whose tools have begun translating into solid production in the South Atlantic League.
One concern I have going forward is how Williams responds to failure as he continues to move through the system. In batting practice, and then game action, Williams appeared to be extremely hard on himself mentally to the point where a coach had to intervene and refocus his energy. Additionally, Williams hit a foul pop up at one point and simply began walking back to the dugout instead of running to first or remaining in the batter’s box until the outcome of the play. Williams is simply too good a player to draw negative attention to himself and have scouts talking about makeup instead of on field performance.
In game action, Williams displayed impressive bat whip, but a swing which had a tendency to become long. Initially, this led me to ponder how much swing-and-miss was present with Williams even though a sub-10% strikeout rate points to plus contact ability. And while my initial reaction may not be supported by numbers, one still wants to see a batted ball profile chock full of line drives and hard ground balls out of a player like Williams.
In retrospect, this may be what I picked up on initially. A short, quick stroke with some lift is ideal. With a leg kick and extra bat waggle, Williams achieves a longer swing which can become “lift happy” for a player of his stature. Additionally, he chased a few fastballs up, as well as breaking balls in the dirt in which little bat control was present. However, the 20-year old has the bat speed and natural lift to hit 12-15 home runs annually without having to “muscle up” by consistently barreling the baseball. Should Williams improve his plate discipline and learn to better identify pitches he can drive, the potential is there for him to nudge that total even higher while hitting for average as well.
On defense, Williams’ route running was inconsistent as an uncontrolled, unnecessary dive led to an inside-the-park home run by Rome Braves’ Kyle Kubitza. However, he also broke beautifully on a ball to left-centerfield and made a running, over-the-shoulder catch covering significant ground. After a couple of games watching Williams, his defensive upside as an above average to plus centerfielder was obvious. However, the fact his defense is still a work in progress was also apparent.
My one real concern about Williams defensively is his arm strength. It struck me as a fringe tool and better suited for left field. Of course the ability to cover ground like a gazelle mitigates a lack of arm strength, but it’s something that definitely keeps him from being discussed as a five-tool talent.
On the bases, Williams stole two bags standing up utilizing long, graceful strides. A stolen base success rate of 69% (18/26) is surprising considering his speed, but it’s yet another area where Williams has the ability to improve as he should be able to accumulate 25-30 or more stolen bases at the big league level.
In many respects, the questions and comments I receive about Mason Williams’ all-around game lead me to believe the general chatter is Williams has more polish than he should probably be given credit for. In actuality, this is a good thing because one wants to see a gap between what a player is and what he can become when plus athleticism is involved. If Williams had a shorter stroke, practiced better plate discipline and ran clean routes in centerfield, I’d probably be forced to downgrade him due to baseball skills having caught up with tools which would limit, not help his perceived ceiling. As it stands, Williams is a surefire top-50 prospect this winter with a legitimate shot at ranking as the top prospect in the Yankees organization.