Williams, who was selected by the New York Yankees out of Winter Garden HS (FL) in the fourth round, was compensated as well as he was in large part because he was regarded to be a premium athlete with speed that, depending on the scout you talk to, is a 70 at worst and 80 at best.
It doesn’t get any higher than 80.
And according to Staten Island Yankees manager Tom Slater, it doesn’t get any faster than his prized 19-year-old outfield prospect, going as far as to say he’s the fastest player he’s seen in the New York-Penn League this season.
But Williams is more than just a speedy pair of legs. While his 20 stolen bases lead the league, so do his .369 batting average, six triples, 75 hits and 105 total bases.
“Mason has worked extremely hard,” Slater said. “Our hitting coach, Ty Hawkins, has done a great job with him, particularly getting him better versus left-handed pitching. Coming out of extended (spring training), that was probably the one thing that he needed to work on the most, and he’s really done a good job using the whole field. He plays a good center field, and he can really run. He’s an exciting player.”
A large part of that excitement is because of Williams incredible speed down the basepaths, which also helps his defensive range in center field as well. Think Austin Jackson, but much faster. Williams says he first began to realize he was faster than the other kids during his sophomore year in high school, when he started doing more agility work in the summer. But in order to make that speed better translate to baseball — specifically professional baseball — the NYPL All-Star has focused on that part of his game early on this season.
“There’s always something to work on, but one of my biggest things I’m working on right now is probably stealing bags,” Williams said.
“Just reading the pitcher, reading the catchers…I’ve been definitely working on stealing.”
Already ranked by Baseball America as the Yankees 15th-best prospect after an unspectacular five game professional debut in the Gulf Coast League last season, the soft-spoken star has been turning heads this year. In 51 games, he’s hitting .369 with three home runs and 26 RBI, and his slugging percentage (.517) and on-base percentage (.414) are good for fourth and fifth best in the league, respectively. He may very well be the best position prospect in the system not named Jesus Montero.
“Right now, I’m just trying to do the best I can,” Williams said.
“I’m trying to help the team out however I can, whether it’s get on base, stealing a bag or making a play in the outfield, I try to do it. The numbers right now don’t matter, hopefully we can make it into the playoffs and make a run.”
Is it as easy as you’re making it look, Mason?
“It’s not, it’s definitely a lot of hard work,” he said.
“Waking up in the morning and getting to the field early, getting the hitting done, all that. But all the hard work pays off in the end, you know.”
And the Yankees are hoping that their commitment to Williams pays off for them in the long term as well. With the South Carolina Gamecocks in the beginning of a run that would see them win back-to-back national titles, Williams had every intention on going there before the draft.
“It was definitely a tough decision, because after South Carolina won the National Championship, I was pretty pumped up and pretty ready to go there,” he said.
“But I let it fall into God’s hands, and whatever happened after that, happened. I got drafted in the fourth round, so I had a good opportunity and took it. It was definitely the best day of my life. After I got drafted, I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, I actually have a chance to pursue my dream and hopefully make it to the big leagues.'”
And while a trip to Double-A Trenton, no less one to the big leagues, is a few years away for the humble speedster, Mason Williams seems well on his way to making his dreams a reality…and fast.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com