TRENTON, NJ – The mention of the name Mason Williams brings two individuals to mind.
One is the comedy writer who also produced the 1968 instrumental hit, “Classical Gas,” the other is a baseball player in the Yankees system who is trying to regain his status.
While the writer, now 76, has firmly established his legacy, a young man, still just 23, is attempting to establish his in similar fashion.
“One thing I really don’t want to talk about is last year,” said the baseball-playing Williams, a member of the Double-A Trenton Thunder for the second straight full season. “I am here to win. I am here to play good baseball. I am here to help this team.”
One does not blame Williams for wanting to make a new start. The Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, according to Baseball America, as recently as 2013, fell all the way to No. 30 in those rankings prior to the 2015 season. After hitting .261 (106-for-406) at Class-A Advanced Tampa in 2013, earning a 17-game, end-of-the-season assignment to Trenton, Williams regressed badly in 2014, hitting just .223 (113-for-507) and showing little plate discipline.
He also seemed disinterested at times, though the Winter Garden, Fla., native’s defensive play was legitimately at major-league level. He closely resembles former Yankees prospect and Seattle outfielder Austin Jackson with the way he runs down flies,
“I know what I have to do this year, and I am working hard to get it done,” said Williams, who, to his credit, has always been a stand-up guy. “I want to be a complete player.”
He showed a much-better approach at the plate in Spring Training, batting .313 (5-for-16) in Grapefruit League action. Williams appeared focused and into the game. The good news is that continued through Trenton’s opening series, in which manager Al Pedrique’s team took 3-of-4 from the Erie SeaWolves, Detroit’s Double-A club, in northwestern Pennsylvania.
Williams, playing left field and batting sixth in the Thunder lineup, batted .333 (5-for-15), with three RBIs. He had the game-winning hit in Game 2 of the series, plus he played excellent defense.
“Mason has the skills,” said a scout from a National League team. “He needs to have patience at the plate. He showed that in Spring Training. His defense is excellent. This is a key season for him.”
To his credit, Williams seems to realize this. There is a lot of outfield talent in the upper levels of the Yankees system,. Williams is on a club that also includes Jake Cave, Aaron Judge and Taylor Dugas. At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the group includes Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin and Ben Gamel.
All are looking to improve their overall skills and push their respective way to the majors.
“I really think all of these players have a chance to play in the majors,” said Pedrique. “It just may not be with the Yankees.”
Whether Williams ends up in Pinstripes or not is a legitimate question. As much as Judge separates himself from the pack with power, Williams excels defensively. The Yanlees accorded him a place on their 4o-man roster because of the level of his defensive game.
If he continues to play as he did in Spring Training and the Thunder’s first series, nobody will be talking about Williams’ 2014 struggles. They will likely be discussing the player the Yankees envisioned when they signed him in 2010.