Prospect list season is one of the bright spots in an otherwise boring offseason, as it is exciting to see where the different “experts” rank different Yankee prospects. Not surprisingly, household names such as Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Gary Sanchez have continued to be highly regarded on these lists, forming the core of a top-10 farm system even after the loss of Jesus Montero in a trade. However, a number of prospects at lower levels have seen their statuses rise, strengthening the depth of the system.
Probably the biggest riser in the Yankee system has been outfield prospect Mason Williams, whom I have written about several times previously. While highly regarded in the draft for his tools and athleticism and believed to be a difficult sign, Williams surpassed even the most optimistic expectations for his professional debut. He was named the best prospect in the New York-Penn League, showing plus-plus speed, great outfield defense, excellent ability to hit for average, and some power potential.
Recently there has been some great analysis of Williams around the internet that I thought would be worth sharing. The first comes from ESPN minor league analyst and snarkmaster extraordinaire Keith Law. His glowing writeup on Williams (posted along with writeups on other Yankees in his top 100 on ESPN-NY) is below:
Williams, the son of former New England Patriot Derwin Williams, is an outstanding athlete who showed a much better approach and feel for the game in his first full year in pro ball than expected.
He’s an above-average-to-plus runner with a plus arm, but the most impressive part of his game in 2011 was the quality of his at bats, which improved over the course of the summer. He’s listed at 6 feet, 150 pounds, and has barely begun to fill out; much of the ‘power’ you see in his stat line was the product of his speed (six triples in 68 games), but he has the hip rotation and leverage to hit for real power when he’s not quite so skinny. His bat is quick, but his stride is very long and he glides on to his front side, so he doesn’t have as much time as he should to pick up off-speed pitch.
Williams finished second in the New York-Penn League in batting average, 10th in OBP, and 14th in slugging despite being one of the 10 youngest regulars in the league, and he’s barely begun to scratch the surface of his ability.
Law is higher on Williams than anybody else I have seen. He ranks him as the #2 prospect in the Yankee system (behind only Banuelos), and #34 overall in the minor leagues (for reference, I’d probably have him somewhere in the 80′s). In his ESPN chat today Law agreed with a questioner who wondered whether Curtis Granderson could be a reasonable ceiling for Williams.
It is evident from the above writeup and the Granderson comp that he sees more power potential in Williams than most. Perhaps Law sees Mason’s very skinny frame (6′ 150) as having room to add muscle without sacrificing too much speed, since his power production this season was not exceptional (though he did have a fair number of doubles and triples. If Mason can in fact develop the power that Law is projecting, then his ceiling may very well be higher than a lot of us have predicted, and he could have real 5-tool potential.
Also providing great feedback on Williams was Al Skorupa of Bullpen Banter, who posted a great scouting report of Williams (complete with extensive video). I definitely recommend reading the whole article to get all the details and see the video, but here is Al’s overall assessment:
Williams has some stand out physical gifts and has the potential to become a 5-tool center fielder. His plus bat speed and pretty, left-handed swing should lead to a high AVG with refinements in his approach. Even though his swing isn’t necessarily built for a whole lot of power he showed surprising pop in 2011 and should continue to improve in that area with physical maturation. Fringe average power is probably reachable if his body cooperates in adding muscle. His speed and athleticism add to all facets of his game – turning singles into extra base hits and making him a constant threat to swipe a bag. The speed also benefits him in the field where improved reads, jumps and routes would mean a plus defensive center fielder. If his development continues as expected Williams can become a speedy center fielder who is a dynamic threat at or near the top of the lineup. He possesses a well rounded skill set that can be very valuable to a major league team and he’s one of the more exciting up the middle talents in the lower minors.
Despite all this praise, Williams just missed Bullpen Banter’s top 100, but I imagine they see him as having a lot of helium. The major difference between Al and Keith’s assessment is that Al sees his power ceiling as “fringe average”, whereas Keith sees him having the potential for “real power” (whatever that means).
Regardless of whether you see Williams as a fringe top-100 prospect or a legitimate top-50 guy (I’d probably split the difference), it is evident that he will be a real interesting player to follow. The most common word that I hear associated with Williams is “exciting”, which seems to be an appropriate way to view Williams as a prospect. I certainly look forward to seeing what he can do in Charleston next season, and am hopeful that he can continue to improve.
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