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Mason Williams Takes the Mantle From Montero

By Chuck Johnson ~ February 20th, 2012. Filed under: Digest Contributors, Yanks Minors.

Now that the inevitable (and overdue) trading of Jesus Montero is comfortably in the rear-view mirror, and with spring training on the horizon, it’s a good time to take a look at who may be in line to ascend the throne as the top position player in the Yankees’ farm system.

In looking through the lists of some of the more well known Prospect Prognosticators (ESPN, Baseball Prospectus, Minor League Ball, MLB.com and Baseball America), the Yankees will have two players listed in the top 100: catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielder Mason Williams.

Sanchez is the more well known of the two, the similarities between him and Montero are obvious; signed as a teenager via the International Free Agent route and given a ridiculous amount of money despite being barely past puberty.

The 2011 season was Sanchez’ first full year as a pro and to say he struggled is an understatement. What has the Yankees’ concerned is his attitude towards the game and lack of maturity. Sanchez was suspended for two weeks in May for insubordination and had numerous run-ins with coaches and teammates during the year. His defense was disappointing, as well. Widely considered a better catching prospect than Montero, Sanchez led the Sally League with 26 passed balls in just 60 games and refused to call for breaking pitches late in the year.

The other candidate for the top spot, Williams, was also playing in his first full season, and he surprised everyone in the system by leading the New York/Penn League in stolen bases and finishing second in the batting race at .349. At the end of the season, Williams was honored as the best prospect in the NYP League and as the Yankees’ Minor League Player of the Year.

While every prospect ranker (except Keith Law) currently ranks Sanchez ahead of Williams, I think a case can be made not only for Williams to be number one, but by a pretty wide margin.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, remember that Williams has played one full year, and while he’s at least in the discussion to be at the top of the Yanks’ list, he’s not in the same category as guys like Mike Trout, Bubba Starling or Anthony Gose, to name a few. Williams is still in the bottom half of the Top 100, and has yet to play at a level where his performance actually means something.

Williams was selected by the Yankees in the fourth round of the 2010 draft out of West Orange High School in Winter Garden, Florida. He’s a lefty hitting, righty throwing outfielder listed at 6’0″, 150, but appears bigger; a fact supported by colleague Joe Delgrippo, who confirmed Williams’ to be closer to 180 pounds.

I’ve seen the word “toolsy” used when describing some of Williams’ abilities, a word I really dislike when describing a pro. It’s a word better used for a younger amateur player who provides glimpses of tool “potential,” but hasn’t yet physically matured to where they would become more consistent in their game.

When watching video of Williams, the one thing that jumps out to me is how quiet his hands are- no two players share the same hitting styles- but the one consistent trait shared by all good hitters is quiet hands, and it’s a big plus for Williams to show that trait at a young age.

His best tool is a “raw 80″ on speed, which is the highest rating a player can receive, although a “raw” 80 doesn’t play as well in game situations as a “true” 80 does, so Williams is probably closer to a 70.

Williams gets good reads on the ball and shows an average arm, so playing center in the majors shouldn’t be a problem.

On paper, the .349 average is impressive, but he only had 20 extra base hits for the year, including just three homers; not at all impressive for a guy with his speed, although for a guy just learning his way as a pro those numbers really don’t raise any red flags.

Williams is scheduled for Low-A Charleston this year (he’ll be a teammate of Sanchez), where he will push former top outfield prospect Slade Heathcott to left field.

The Yankees’ focus for Williams this year will to continue to develop, especially with his base running, base stealing and with his routes in the outfield. They’ll also be watching his stamina, as the Sally League is a full Class (140 games) as opposed to the short season NYP, where a full schedule is fewer than 100.

The headline on the Yankees’ prospect page in Baseball America is titled “Yanks seek next homegrown star.”

With Montero gone, the torch, at least for now, has been passed to Mason Williams.

Hopefully, for Yankee fans, Williams carries it better than Montero did, or Sanchez has.

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A life-long Yankee fan who counts among his fondest memories seeing “The Mick” play in person, Chuck is a long time member of SABR and the Minor League Alumni Association. A staff researcher for Retrosheet, and a former part-time scout with the Mariners, Chuck now works for the Milwaukee Brewers in their Spring Training Operations Office and holds a similar role in the offseason for the Arizona Fall League. Chuck's newest venture is as a staff writer for MLB.com's new minor league blog http://thefuturists.mlblogs.com, led by Senior Writer Jonathan Mayo. You can check him out there under user cjohns56 (same as Twitter), and on his soon to be launched personal website, www.mlbprospectpulse.com.

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7 Responses to Mason Williams Takes the Mantle From Montero

  1. Joseph DelGrippo

    Good piece Chuck.

    I agree that Williams should be ranked higher, especially with the dearth of outfield talent in the system.

    One thing I disagree with is that I believe Williams should start in Tampa, one level higher than Charleston. It is closer to his home and he can also be viewed by the Yankees brass on an everyday basis.

    Push the kid and see what he can do. He appears to be a level-headed kid and could absorb any struggles.

    The Yankees skipped Charleston with Brett Gardner (ironic since Gardner played his college ball IN Charleston), but the fact that Gardner was a college player (only two years older) might have made that difference.

    Even though Williams’ had a low amount of extra base hits, those extra base hits will come with natural physical maturity and his putting on of about 25 lbs of muscle since being drafted.

    As for Sanchez, my Tampa source tells me Gary had a MAJOR attitude problem ever since he became a part of the Yankees organization. He thinks he is the best thing since sliced bread. Yankees have lots of patience with development of Latin kids (as they should), but not with those kids who have attitude issues.

    That was once reason why they rid themselves of Arodys Vizcaino.

    However, that two weeks disciplinary action really improved Sanchez’ attitude, and if can improve his receiving skills, he will become a fine ballplayer at the highest level.

    There is no mistaking the bat. His power is legit, but his ability to hit for a higher average is questionable. As an 18 year old, Sanchez hit 17 homers, same as Montero at that age and level, in 226 less PAs!

    As Larry David would say: That is Pretty, Pretty good!

  2. Chuck Johnson

    Thanks, Joe

    “That was once reason why they rid themselves of Arodys Vizcaino”

    And Jose Tabata.

  3. B.E. Earl

    Any chance that Heathcott starts the year in CF for Tampa instead of moving to LF and playing in Chucktown for another year?

  4. Chuck Johnson

    I think that’s a possibility for sure, but dependent on how Heathcott performs in ST.

    It makes sense because Tampa plays it’s home games in the Yanks’ facility and Heathcott would have access to the major league training staff, etc if he needs extended spring training.

    The weather’s a factor too, Tampa and the FSL is a better option for a guy coming off two shoulder surgeries than is the Sally.

    The negative in all this is Heathcott himself..the Yanks are really concerned that his shoulder will never be 100%, and with Slade’s football mentality he may not be able to back off and could further damage the shoulder.

    I think LF is the best move for him at this point, especially since last year was a waste and he’d be technically skipping a level.

    But, yeah, I could see him in Tampa for sure.

  5. Daler

    Will Chuck have 1 post this year that doesn’t mention Montero? Tune in!

  6. Mister Deez

    Mason Williams has certainly taken the mantle of NYY’s top prospect in Chuck’s magical world where Manny Banuelos was never born.

  7. Joseph DelGrippo

    Mr. Deez,

    Might want to re-read the opening paragraph where Chuck clearly states “top position player in the Yankees’ farm system.”

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