Two high-ranking members of the New York Yankees’ minor-league branch believe that the offensive struggles that Mason Williams has endured for nearly two months are not cause for panic.
Williams, a 22-year-old who spent his formative years growing up in Pawtucket before moving to Winter Garden, Fla. following the completion of seventh grade at St. Teresa School, is in the midst of a deep slump. There’s no easy way to sugarcoat the .199 batting average and .295 on-base percentage he brought into Friday’s game for Double-A Trenton (he stood at .191 prior to Thursday’s two-hit performance).
Eastern League pitchers continue to have their way with one of the more acclaimed prospects in the entire Yankees’ farm system. The word “continue” is key because Williams hit (.153) and reached base (.164) at roughly the same clip during his 17-game cameo with the Thunder last season. The one-time Darlington American Little League product now has 57 games at the Class AA level under his belt and is batting just .185.
“Everyone hits a wall at some point. Let’s just hope this is it and he battles his way through it and it’s a learning process,” stated Director of Player Development Pat Roessler when reached on the phone. “He hasn’t had a whole lot of luck as far as finding holes, and when you’re a young player, sometimes that can eat at you a little bit when you’re not getting the desired results.
“He also played in the cold weather in the first month of the season for the first time as a professional. It’s something you have to take into account, but you also have to get used to it,” Roessler continued.
Tom Slater, the Yanks’ roving minor-league hitting instructor, dropped by McCoy Stadium earlier this week with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in town to face Pawtucket.
“You have to look beyond the batting average because he’s doing some things well. Mason doesn’t swing and miss much,” said Slater in reference to Williams having as many strikeouts (24) as walks (22). “We have great belief in the player and his numbers will turn around. We’re talking about a young kid who has a knack for putting the barrel on the ball.
It’s easy to pick apart someone in Williams’ present baseball state. Remember, this is the same player who prior to the 2013 season was touted by Baseball America as the No. 1 minor leaguer in the Yankees’ system. Granted he still hadn’t climbed out of the Single-A ranks, but many pundits felt comfortable in lauding him as New York’s center fielder of the future.
Now those same evaluators are wondering if Williams’ future will consist of him donning pinstripes. There’s no question his stock took a hit after he slashed – sequentially, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage – .245/.304/.337 in 117 games between High-A and Double-A. His power numbers also fell off dramatically from four home runs in 2013 to 11 in 91 games in 2012.
The biggest roadblock to his perceived path to the majors came in the offseason when New York committed seven years to former Red Sox sparkplug Jacoby Ellsbury. It’s unknown if the disappointment of seeing the one-time label of “future starting centerfielder for the Yankees” vanish following the toughest season of his young professional life has played a part in Williams’ inability to gain any sort of traction in 2014.
In a move that probably shouldn’t be considered eye-opening given the Ellsbury factor, Williams made a start in right field this past Monday night. It was his first-ever appearance at a position besides center.
“He played the corner outfield spots in spring training, because as a first-year guy in big-league camp, he’s going in for guys in the last couple of innings,” Roessler explained. “He’s worked at the corner spots in batting practice, so it’s nothing new for him. He’s an exceptional center fielder and has a quality apt for wherever he’s at.”
Added Slater, “He’s a true center fielder and those guys are hard to find.”
Team personnel are adamant that Williams is fully capable of rising from the abyss and rekindling the buzz that surrounded him in 2011 when Slater managed an exciting and dynamic player at Short-Season Staten Island. That particular season saw Williams, a fourth-round pick in 2010, top the New York-Penn League in steals (28) and rank second in batting (.349).
“That was truly his first season in professional baseball because he signed right at the deadline the year before,” Slater said. “He was always one of the first guys to the ballpark and spent a lot of time with (Staten Island hitting coach) Ty Hawkins in the cages. Defensively, during batting practice, he would work on seeing the ball come off the bat. That’s been his M.O. throughout his time in the organization.”
For young ballplayers who get into a rut at the plate, there lies the temptation to reinvent the wheel, i.e. ditch the old approach in favor of one that could prove beneficial. So far, Williams has resisted the urge to implement wholesale changes in favor of slight tweaks.
“He’s got some mechanical things he’s working on to try and stay more balanced and stay on the ball a little bit more,” Roessler pointed out. “He sees what can happen when he stays in his approach during games. He doesn’t quite stay there as long as often as both parties would like. I think it’s just a matter of trust and eventually he will and then the numbers will improve.”
Even though this tough stretch where mental and physical tests of your ability seem to run simultaneously, officials have not noticed a drop-off in Williams’ work ethic.
“Believe me, he’s trying as hard as anyone to pull out of this,” Roessler said. “He’s working his tail off, and we have confidence that Mason will get out of this and become the player we think he is.”
Echoed Slater, “You just have to have faith in the process that the hits are going to come. Mason’s mature and he’s always going to work and play the game hard. That’s never going to change with him. His work ethic combined with his athleticism, good things are going to happen for Mason.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03