New York Yankees Prospect Profile Number 17: Mason Williams

Continuing our Yanks Go Yard Prospect Profile series, let’s move down the pipeline to a young outfielder we all met briefly during the 2015 season: Mason Williams.

Scouting Grads (courtesy of MLB Pipeline): Hit: 50 | Power: 35 | Run: 60 | Arm: 50 | Field: 60 | Overall: 45

Mason Williams’ climb through the Yankees’ system has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. From top prospect to on the brink of bust-dom to homering in his first major league start to shoulder surgery, Mason’s career has been a bit nutty so far. Let’s see how it all started, and where it all might go.

The journey started when the Yankees took Williams, whose father, Derwin Williams, was a wide receiver for the New England Patriots from 1985-1987, out of Orange High School in Winter Garden, Florida in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. The team signed Williams for $1.45 Million and sent him to the Gulf Coast Yankees of the Rookie League to kick off his professional career. Because of his elite defensive ability, his athleticism and hitting ability, scouts thought Williams could potentially some day carry on the legacy of great Yankees centerfielders. Unfortunately, the power of positivity surrounding Williams would come crashing down over the next two seasons.

Take a look at this scouting report from 2014, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus.

“Not impressed with makeup; does not look interested; looks defeated before he steps on the field; does not hustle; looks apathetic out there; no urgency for anything.”

Ouch. That’s quite the downturn. It’s hard to say if this perceived lack of effort was caused by his struggles, or if the lack of effort caused the decline–classic chicken and egg scenario–but either way, Williams stock dropped immensely during the 2014 season. That year, Williams played 128 games for AA Trenton, and the results were terrible. The lefty hit .223/.290/.304, managing only 27 extra-base-hits in the process. All of a sudden, Williams was in the “remove him from the 40-man” conversation, instead of the “future of center field” conversation.

Thankfully, something changed in 2015. Suddenly, that old Mason Williams–the one the Yankees thought they were getting back in 2010–was back. Williams ripped through AA Trenton in his age 23 season, hitting .317/.407/.375 with 11 stolen bases and seven doubles in just 34 games. That flurry of production was enough to earn Williams a call to AAA Scranton, and the hits just kept on coming. In 20 games with the RailRiders, Williams hit .321/.382/.482, with seven more doubles and a triple. Soon enough, the big leagues came calling too.

Due to injuries to just about every outfielder on the roster (including replacements for already injured guys), the Yankees ended up calling Williams up in June. On June 12, he was slotted into the lineup as the starting center fielder in Camden Yards against the Orioles for his major league debut, and what a debut it was.

First of all, according to Sportsonearth.com, he became the first player ever to wear number 80 in a major league game (maybe he was channeling his WR pop with that one?). Then, in his second big league at bat, Williams took Ubaldo Jimenez deep over right field wall. There’s a great visual of his little brother, Kobe, going nuts on the dinger. Solid baseball moment right there.

Unfortunately, Williams’ big league run would be cut short just a week later when, while sliding back into first base on a pickoff attempt against the Tigers, he tore up his shoulder. Surgery would follow, and Williams’ resurgent 2015 season was over. In fact, he’s still currently rehabbing the injury, although I suspect he’ll be back at it in a matter of weeks, because he’s apparently already participating in batting practice and outfield drillsas he rebuilds strength in his surgically repaired shoulder.

I think Williams still has the ability to be a successful every-day big league center fielder. The defense has never been in doubt, but I think his bat will play at the big league lever too. His biggest asset is that he makes a ton of contact. Even during his putrid 2014 season, Williams only struck out 68 times in 563 plate appearances. If he can develop his gap power more, I think he could be a Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner type of player, although with a few less homers. He also needs to work on his base stealing technique. The speed to nab 20 bases or so per season is there (he’s done in the minors before), but some technical adjustments could improve that a little as well. Hopefully Ellsbury and Gardner get ahold of him at some point and teach him a thing or two.

I’m willing to bet Williams will need to spend some legitimate time at AAA this year. First of all, he only has 20 games of experience at that level. Secondly, he needs to get back into the swing of things after so many months off. That being said, we’ll see him at Yankees Stadium at some point in 2016.