Several Yankees prospects have opened some eyes in Spring Training, but perhaps none as wide as outfielder Mason Williams.
In 11 games, the 23-year-old Williams is hitting .357 (5-for-14), with a trio of doubles, a triple and three RBIs. His OBP is .412 and slugging percentage .714. He missed hitting a grand-slam home run by inches in the Yankees’ 12-5 romp over the Atlanta Braves in Orlando Wednesday night.
Williams’ play in Florida has been a pleasure to watch, but the question must be asked. Is this real or a mirage?
We’re not looking to discount anything Williams, the former Yankees top prospect who was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft and signed by scout Jeff Deardorff, has done in Florida, but we have to wonder if the progress is temporary or permanent.
Braves SportsSouth announcers Chip Caray and Joe Simpson saw Williams for the first time Wednesday night, watching him make a diving catch in center field, drive in a run with that shot to right field and pick up another hit with a hard single up the middle.
“He’s a top prospect,” Caray stated, using material which can be found in distributed Game Notes. “Certainly he has been impressive tonight.”
Simpson then chimed in with, “the Yankees are certainly liking what they are seeing out of this young man tonight.”
A true statement. What Caray and Simpson, and no doubt plenty of others, had not seen, was Williams’ performance at Double-A Trenton in 2014. In what was a miserable year for the Winter Garden, Fla, native, he batted .223 (113-for-507), with an OBP of .290 and slugging percentage of .304.
He showed no plate discipline, swinging at anything in or out of the zone. He struck out just 68 times, but often hit lazy flies to the outfield, negating his speed advantage.
“Mason spent as much, if not more, time than anyone in the cage last season,” said Tony Franklin, who managed Williams in 2014. “He has tools. He just has to learn how to use them.”
Defensively, Williams patrolled center field at major-league level. His defensive skills could play in Yankee Stadium, but his batting skills didn’t even play at Double-A, where he will certainly return in 2015, joining Jake Cave and Aaron Judge in the Trenton outfield.
“I’m working hard to make myself a better player,” Williams said several times as he struggled offensively in 2014. He stole 21 bases with an OBP under .300. Just think what kind of threat he would have been if he hit .261 (106-for-406), as he did at Class-A Advanced Tampa in 2013?
The Yankees decided to protect Williams from the Rule 5 Draft, and, as a member of the 40-man roster, reported directly to big-league camp. If new hitting coaches Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell got some things across to him in those early weeks, excellent.
So far this spring, Williams’ approach at the plate has been patient. He seems to be recognizing pitches better. He is not lunging at outside and low pitches, but is letting them go. As a result, he is both getting better pitches to hit and making improved contact.
The Yankees decided his offensive game was fixable, and, perhaps, they are on the road to success.
Nobody is expecting Williams, who legitimately could be a late-inning defensive replacement for several big-league teams, to hit ,300. If he can put together a .260 or .270 season and raise that OBP 60 or 70 points, there is no reason he couldn’t steal 45-55 bases and give the Yankees what they thought they were getting in 2010.
A few scouts mentioned perhaps it took Williams a bit longer for “the light to go on” as far as plate management is concerned. He can hit a home run here and there – 23 in 409 minor-league games – but that is not his role.
Williams needs to continue what he is doing in Florida, which is the opposite of what we saw in 2014. His role is to be patient, recognize pitches he can’t hit and get on base, then cause havoc on the bases.
Again, is it real or a mirage? We’ll know a month from now along the banks of the Delaware.