TRENTON – It’s been an up-and-down journey for Mason Williams since being drafted by the Yankees in 2010. Once rated as the top prospect in the organization, Williams now may not even have the brightest future in his own outfield.
The former shining star of the system got his feet wet with the Thunder in 2013 before struggling mightily when given regular playing time at the level in 2014. Overall, Williams holds a .219/.279/.304 batting line in 151 games since joining the Thunder, numbers which could not buoy his prospect status even with outstanding defense.
Now, Williams has said he wants to leave the past where it belongs and focus his energy on succeeding with Trenton in 2015 – and rebuild his prospect stock along the way. So far, it has worked for the 23-year-old, as he enters Friday second on the team with a .348 batting average. His new manager, Al Pedrique, noted that Williams has looked much stronger at the plate early in the season.
“The way he’s been swinging the bat early in the season, he’s driving the ball with authority, especially to left-center,” Pedrique said on Friday. “He has more confidence knowing that he feels stronger, and hopefully he will have continued improvement on his strength.”
The improved strength comes as a result of a winter full of rigorous offseason workouts, which was part of a plan set forth for Williams by the Yankees.
“I feel like this offseason was really big for me,” Williams said before Friday’s game. “I had a trainer out in Orlando, and we got after it every day.”
“I feel like keeping up with your body and maintaining your body is going to help you in the long run,” Williams added. “It’s going to help you cut down on the injuries and make your body feel better than it should.”
Part of Williams’ success at the plate may come from having less pressure on him to be the driving force in the lineup. With eight legitimate major league prospects in the Thunder lineup to open the season, Mason has settled into the seventh slot — much further down than the team’s leadoff man is used to hitting. However, being moved down in the lineup didn’t phase Williams, who indicated his belief that the talent in the lineup makes it easier for everyone to perform.
“[My place in the batting order] doesn’t matter to me,” Williams said. “I’m just getting my at-bats.”
One scout indicated that he believes that Williams was never meant to be a leadoff hitter anyways, and that the bat will never fully come around. According to the evaluator, a big part of the problem comes from the 23-year-old’s inability to define himself at the plate.
“He thinks he’s a [power hitter like a] Bird or a Judge,” the scout said. “He has to realize that he needs to bunt and steal bases to find success, not try to swing for the fences.”
The same scout saw Williams frequently this spring, and noted that he did not really put any memorable at-bats together. Instead, the scout indicated that if the 23-year-old makes the major leagues someday, his ceiling is likely limited to that of a reserve outfielder, thanks to his superior defense and speed.
However, the Yankees clearly still have faith in their young outfielder. When he was Rule V draft eligible for the first time this offseason, the team protected him by adding him to their 40-man roster, despite already having a logjam in their outfield. That logjam has also caused the team to give him a look in the outfield corners, in an effort to increase his versatility in the field.
“I was really excited,” Williams said of finding out he would be added to the 40-man roster. “But I still understood that I had the same goal in mind, that if I wanted to play in the big leagues that I still need to do the same things I’ve been doing.”
If he keeps producing at the plate the way he has during the season’s first week, Williams could find himself one step closer to achieving that goal at some point this year – by earning a promotion to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
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