Yankees' Mason Williams Stands Out In Star-Studded Crowd
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. —The Staten Island Yankees roster is packed with notable prospects. Lefthander Evan DeLuca and righthander Bryan Mitchell, both drafted in 2009, received large overslot bonuses for their services. The Yankees' top two picks in 2010, Cito Culver and Angelo Gumbs, currently comprise the middle infield for the Baby Bombers. Yet no one's star has shined brighter than that of Mason Williams, who has made a name for himself this season roaming center field in Richmond County Bank Park.
Of course Williams arrived with fanfare—he was picked after Culver and Gumbs but received the largest signing bonus of the Yankees' 2010 draft class at $1.4 million. Williams' advanced feel for hitting and top-of-the-charts speed were his best tools when the Yankees drafted him in the in the fourth round (145th overall) in 2010 out of West Orange High in Winter Garden, Fla. He has put both to good use in his New York-Penn League debut.
Williams, 20, was hitting .352/.399/.477 and ranked first in average as the season was winding to a close. He has also incorporated speed into nearly every facet of his game, from bunting for hits, to roaming center field to pressuring pitchers on the basepaths. And that doesn't include his league-leading 26 stolen bases.
"(Speed) is a big part of his game," Staten Island manager Tom Slater said. "He's able to bunt for a hit and put a lot of pressure on infielders. It's the same when he gets on base—he pressures pitchers. If they go to home, they have to be quick.
"Whenever he's on, he really causes problems for the other team."
Williams sees room for improvement on the basepaths.
"I've been thrown out numerous times (a league-leading 12 caught stealings). It's still something you need to work on and the more reps you have at it the better you're going to get," he said.
That same foot speed has helped him draw raves reviews for his work in the field.
"He's outstanding (defensively) and he has been since day one," Slater said. "Mason is just a tremendous center fielder. There are balls he doesn't dive for that most others would have to. Balls that he's diving for are typically ones that nobody else would even be close to. He takes a lot of hits away."
Williams realizes that natural talent alone will not get him to the big leagues. In addition to working on getting better jumps on the basepaths, Williams seeks to improve his defense in the outfield.
"I've been working on getting better reads to the ball," said Williams, who played some infield and pitched in high school as well as playing outfield. "Sometimes I have a habit of maybe getting a little bit lazy and not having the best first step to the ball, so I'm trying to have a more explosive first step."
The importance of strong, consistent defense is not lost on the nascent outfielder.
"Even if I go zero-for-four or zero-for-five, I can still help the team by making a play on defense," he said. "Maybe a big catch or throwing someone out at the plate."
Hitting His Stride
Williams is able to put his speed to use on the basepaths because of his advanced approach at the plate. "Mason's got a great swing, it's short, it's direct, it's to the ball," Slater said. "He has the ability to drive the ball gap to gap and he stays on pitches well. He's also been able to turn on the ball. (Staten Island batting coach) Ty Hawkins has really done some nice work with him up here with regards to his approach."
There hasn't been a lot of swinging and missing for Williams this season, who had just 37 strikeouts in well over two hundred at bats.
"Hawk has helped me a lot with using more of my legs and driving through my backside," Williams says. "Right now I have a lot of confidence going to the ballpark and when I'm at the plate. Once you get something going consistently—your everyday thing—it just becomes second nature to you."
"Mason has a tremendous work ethic," Slater said. "He's in the cages with Hawk working hard all the time. There's been a lot of growth for him, especially coming out of extended spring training and through the first few weeks of the NYPL. His approach (against lefthanders) has really, really improved. That's probably the biggest change compared to where he was in April and May."
Slater's observations are reflected in the results this season; The lefthanded-hitting Williams was hitting .385 against lefthanders with 11 extra-base hits in 65 at bats (1.027 OPS).
While Williams is certainly proud of his individual accomplishments this year—he was leading the New York-Penn League in batting, hits (90) and total bases (122)—he doesn't spend his time perusing the league leaderboard.
"I don't pay attention to it," he said. "I know that I'm up there—I've been hearing it a lot recently—but if I go 5-for-5 in a game and we lose, I still feel like I didn't help the team out.
"I hate losing more than anything. I just want to get the win."
Certainly much to Williams' delight, Staten Island was leading the McNamara Division and headed for the league playoffs. At the end of the day, the allure of being crowned champion might be what motivates Williams the most.
"Right now my number one goal is to finish the season with a New York-Penn League championship," he said. "I'm trying to do whatever I can to get that ring and I know the rest of my teammates feel the same way."