A little while ago I had a post considering the merits of using outfield prospect Mason Williams as a trade chip, because his value was very high coming off a stellar season in Staten Island, and there were rumors that some GM’s saw him as the second-best prospect in the Yankee system. My thought was that the perceived value didn’t match the actual value, and that Williams’ prospect status could take a hit this season for a variety of reasons. At present, Williams likely falls into the back end of most top 100 prospect lists. As of now, the Yankees haven’t made a trade for a #2-#3 starter, and with many of those guys going off the market, it seems that Williams will likely remain in the Yankee organization.
Williams has consistently been considered the #5 prospect in the Yankee system, an impressive ranking considering he has yet to play full season ball. He tore up the New York-Penn League by hitting .349/.395/.468 with 3 homers and 28 stolen bases, and was a dynamic and exciting player to watch. His speed, defense, and hit tool all received high marks from scouts. He didn’t show much in the way of home run power (not surprising given his skinny frame), but he has some room for projection and had his fair share of extra base hits.
It will be interesting to see how the Yankees handle Williams next season. He is the best hitting prospect to play for Staten Island in quite some time, so I am curious how aggressive the Yankees will be in promoting him. My guess is that he will begin the season in low-A Charleston, which is mostly a lateral move as far as strength of competition goes (maybe a little higher). However, if he gets off to a good start to the season, hitting like he did in Staten Island, I imagine the Yankees will be willing to give him a promotion to Tampa by the beginning of the summer.
There is a slight possibility that the Yankees could have Williams skip Charleston entirely and go straight to high-A Tampa, but I doubt this will happen. The Yankees are typically not this aggressive with their prospects, though as I mentioned before Williams could be an exception. Plus Slade Heathcott will likely be the centerfielder in Tampa next season, and my guess is that the Yankees would like to give both guys the opportunity to play center full time.
As for performance, Williams set a high bar for himself last season, but has some room to improve. As he moves into some tougher hitting environments, I will definitely be looking to see how he maintains his approach and continues to hit. I do not expect him to have a .399 BABIP again, so his batting average will likely drop. The two main areas where I would want to see improvement would be in plate discipline and power, and probably in that order. Most of Williams’ OBP last year was due to his high batting average, and if his average drops somewhat due to better fielding at higher levels, I would love to see him draw a few more walks to compensate (he walked in 6.7% of PA’s last year). As for power, some of the doubles and triples he hit could become homers with a little more added strength, but I’m not sure I want him to sell out his current hitting approach to try and hit homers.
Williams’ prospect status will likely take a jump if he is able to maintain a similar level of performance to last season, even if his batting average drops somewhat. However, to truly ascend into the elite level of prospects that many people believe he can become, Williams would likely be required to show some additional power and/or plate discipline. Next year will give us a better barometer of whether Williams has the chance to be a 5-tool centerfielder, or if he will be more of a Brett Gardner type with less plate discipline and a little more power. In either scenario, Williams projects as a valuable player due to his speed, defense, and hit tool, but improvement will determine if he has star potential.
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