With the signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran this winter along with the returning Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano and maybe even Ichiro Suzuki, outfield prospects in the Yankees organization can’t like their chances to make an impact with the big club any time soon.
But that doesn’t mean their chance will never come, and Mason Williams may be next in line. Williams was one of just two Yankees along with Gary Sanchez to make MLB.com’s 2014 Top 100 Prospects list. It’s the third time the 22-year-old outfielder has made the list, but his rank of 75 is the lowest he’s had.
Williams was drafted out of high school in the 4th round of the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft. He is known for his athleticism and is one of the top defensive center fielders in the minor leagues. But defense alone won’t get you to the big leagues, and Williams has yet to show he can consistently handle himself at the plate.
He got off to a fine start at the plate in Low-A ball in 2011. Williams showed a great eye at the plate with a .395 OBP and his slap hitting style led to a .349 average. That performance was good enough to get recognition in most of the top 100 prospect lists for the first time before the 2012 season. He played pretty well at Single-A Charleston that year as well, though he struggled at High-A Tampa. Nonetheless, scouts were high enough on him to give him higher rankings before last season, including the No. 41 spot on MLB.com.
Last year, however, Williams really struggled to take the next step at the plate. He managed to hit just .245 at Tampa and AA Trenton combined. The more disappointing part was that he seemed to have lost his keen eye as he had a big dip in OBP down to .304 combined at the two levels. That kind of production simply isn’t going to get it done.
So Williams dropped down the prospect list, and rightfully so, but there’s still a lot to be excited about. His defense is still top notch and he has shown a ton of speed, stealing 64 bases in four minor league seasons. He should start the season at Trenton this year, but at 22 with so many outfield stars on the main roster, the organization likely isn’t in a rush to move him up. Expect him to spend much of the year in Double-A as he tries to get back that good eye and become a strong leadoff hitter who can just get on base and run.
He was recently one of four young outfielders invited to spring training and will be worth watching. He won’t make the club, but fans should keep a close eye on him not only this Spring but in the minors as well. If he can advance at the plate he’ll be someone the Yankees could rely on in a few years. The Yankees outfield may be crowded now, but those guys aren’t getting any younger.