Mason Williams: The forgotten prospect?
It's not often, if ever, that you can call someone who is No. 1 in an organization also the most overlooked…but such may be the case with Yankees outfield prospect Mason Williams these days.
Williams is the No. 1 prospect in the Yankees organization according to Baseball America, and yet, he's not only not the most heralded outfielder in the system right now, he might not even be the one getting the most pub on his own team.
Part of that has to do with the youth movement that has seen several Yankees farmhands become big players in the Bronx, and part of that has to do with the trials and tribulations of the "dream outfield" of Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, and Ramon Flores at Double-A Trenton - but part of it has to fall on Williams himself.
After a first half of 2012 that saw him hit .304 with eight homers and 19 steals at Class-A Charleston and earn a South Atlantic League All-Star nod, the last 11 months or so have been tough for Williams, that period starting last July 25 when a shoulder injury incurred just three weeks after his promotion to Tampa prematurely ended his season.
"We were in a playoff run when I got hurt," Williams remembered earlier this spring, "and it was disappointing to lose the rest of the season."
But after getting a clean bill of health and returning to Tampa to start 2013, Williams has struggled to get it going through the first third of the Minor League slate. Through Wednesday, Williams had played 40 games for the T-Yanks, and had posted a somewhat disappointing line of .224-2-13 with just six steals.
As Williams asserted, however, it's more growing pains than anything, and his struggles definitely have little to nothing to do with any extra added pressure from being the man who supplanted Gary Sanchez - who himself is off to a strong .276-8-36 start in 42 games at Tampa, and is still much-discussed given the state of Yankees catching - atop at least Baseball America's rankings.
"No not really, I actually feel like it's a little extra motivation," Williams said of being No. 1. "If people think highly of me, then I have to keep standards high and keep performing."
As it stands, over the last year, Tyler Austin - who started 2012 with Williams in the RiverDogs' outfield - has surpassed him and began 2013 at Double-A Trenton, while the third member of that initial 2012 Dog pound, Ben Gamel, has hit .262 with 24 RBI and stolen a team-high 11 bases in 42 games next to Williams in the T-Yanks outfield.
That said, Williams acknowledged that the competition is healthy for him, and he knows that no matter how well (or how poorly) Austin, Gamel, or anyone else may perform, he can't worry about anyone but himself.
"We're all out here together trying to get better, but it all comes down to how you perform," Williams said. "I, personally, don't try to control things I can't control; I just try to be me and handle me and play hard every day."
He does watch everyone, however, and noted that during the spring, he tried to learn a lot from a pretty famous player he has long admired.
"I didn't take my eyes of Derek Jeter all game," Williams recalled of his short stint with the Major League club this spring. "I didn't have much time to talk to Jeter or a lot of guys 1-on-1, but I try to watch what they do, their mannerisms, how they carry themselves and take a little from everyone to make my own."
There's certainly a lot to learn from the Captain, for sure, and Williams knows he has a lot of growing to do.
"I definitely want to become a better baseball player and a smarter player, and I want to become a better teammate, on the field and in the clubhouse," Williams said.
He's knows that will come in time, as will success. He may be struggling in Tampa, but he's already tasted the "Yankee tradition" as part of the 2011 New York-Penn League championship squad in Staten Island, and his only desire in baseball is to do whatever it takes to get that feeling back.
"A lot of us here have one goal, which is to try to win a ring. I've done that in Staten Island already, and I want more," Williams said. "We had a great team with a lot of great players there, so it's not like I did it on my own, but it made me think that if that's what it feels like here, imagine what it will be like when it's the World Series. It's definitely motivation."
In the interim, Williams will continue to work on his game; his improvements may be quiet for now given all that's going on in the system, but he'll never give less than 100 percent any time he steps on the field.
"I'm going to play hard every game, because I'm here to win. I'm not here to go through the motions."