Mason Williams and the next level

Using Freddy Garcia
Yankees claim Matt Antonelli off waivers from Orioles
(Photo via The Post and Courier)

The minor league season is roughly six weeks old, about a quarter of the way through the 140-game schedule for the four full season leagues. Almost every high-upside position player prospect in the Yankees’ system is playing for Low-A Charleston at the moment, and they’re all raking. Tyler Austin has more homers (12) than any non-Curtis Granderson player in the organization, Gary Sanchez owns a .333/.380/.483 batting line as a 19-year-old, and Dante Bichette Jr. is in the middle of a hot streak (hitting .367 in his last eight games) after a slow start.

Then there’s Mason Williams, the team’s top position player prospect coming into the season in my opinion. As you can see in the sidebar, he’s produced a .366 wOBA in 141 plate appearances this year, flashing both power (14 extra-base hits) and speed (12 steals). As impressive as those numbers are, his strikeout and walk rates are eye-popping. Williams has only struck out six times in those 141 plate appearances, a hilariously low 4.3 K%*. His eight walks result in a 5.7 BB%, meaning he’s put the ball in play in nine out of ten plate appearances this year. That’s just out of this world.

* Furthermore, two of those strikeouts came in consecutive plate appearances against Dylan Bundy a few weeks ago, arguably the best pitching prospect in the world right now. Against mere mortals, his strikeout rate is 2.9%. Ridiculous.

I bring this up because sometime in the near future, we’re going to see some prospects get midseason promotions to the next level. Some promotions are more exciting than others but they all indicate some kind of progress. Sanchez will surely get bumped to High-A Tampa because he’s repeating Low-A, just as an example.

Most players drafted out of high school will spend a full year at each level, at least in the lower minors when they’re first cutting their teeth. Obviously there is the occasional Justin Upton-esque exception, but a full year at each level is a decent rule of thumb. Williams came into this season with 317 short season plate appearances and added those 141 plate appearances this year, which amount to 458 career plate appearances. About a hundred short of a full season’s worth. That said, I think Mason’s absurd strikeout and walk rates are an indication that he’s ready for the next level.

Simply put, Williams is not having trouble getting the bat on the ball. Keith Law confirmed Mason’s more aggressive approach (compared to last season) when he saw him last month, and those low strikeout and walk rates indicate that he’s putting the ball in play early in the count. The lack of walks isn’t the result of an inability to recognize balls and strikes, Williams is just putting the ball in play before he sees four balls. Based on the results, it’s hard to complain. That’s why I think a promotion to High-A is worthwhile this summer; he’ll have a chance to face better pitching and continue developing his approach at the plate. It’s tough to get comfortable in deep counts or work on a two-strike approach if you can put the ball in play at will.

Development is not usually something we can accurately measure with statistics, but we rely on them because as outsiders, that’s all we have. We don’t get to see how these kids react to breaking balls or use their changeup in a fastball counts on an everyday basis, so there’s always going to be an element of the unknown for us. Frankly, it’s a pretty significantly sized element of unknown. From here though, it looks like Williams could benefit from a promotion to High-A despite his relatively short stint with the River Dogs.

Using Freddy Garcia
Yankees claim Matt Antonelli off waivers from Orioles
  •!/AngeloInNY Angelo


    • vin

      Doesn’t Mike realize that team is all we have to look forward to anymore?

  • A.D.

    While it’s great to see the Riverdogs rake and have a dream line-up, gotta hope it does get broken up since kids are being promited

  • mike

    Any word on how Campos is progressing with his elbow?

  • CS Yankee

    I’m hoping that 3-4 will be in Tampa by July when I visit Florida so I can drive across state to see them.

    Sanchez, Austin & Williams look like the early favorites…last month I would have guessed Campos, Williams & DBich.

    I agree though…he doesn’t seem to be challenged much except with baserunning.

    • gageagainstthemachine

      If I were Dante, I think I would ask the fans to definitely NOT use the “first initial-beginning of last name” nickname formula. Just saying :)

      • Bo Knows

        I’ve said this many times myself…lazy nicknames already suck, when the guys name can become essentially an insult people should actually try and be inventive on names

      • YanksFanInBeantown

        And DBJ is even easier to type.

  • jjyank

    Sure, why not. I’d prefer that the Yankees not rush their prospects, but if Mason isn’t being challenged enough, it doesn’t make sense to keep him in Charleston just for the hell of it.

    • Voice of Reason

      people really need to stop using the word “rush” so loosely. He’s hitting .320-.355-.500 with a 4.3 K percentage. Tyler Austin leads the league in ISO by a huge margin. What the hell do you need to see before you’re satisfied that they won’t crumble and die as a result of facing slightly better competition?

      You move prospects up so you can see what you have. And where is the hard evidence that says that moving players up a level before they’re laying waste to their current level has a horrible impact on them in the future? I suspect that there is none.

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        Ima be the voice of more reason here.

        First, he wasn’t using the word “rush” in reference to Mason Williams, he was actually saying ‘hey, I don’t usually like to see promotions happen too quickly, but this kid seems ready so it’s probably time to move him up a level.’

        Second, Tyler Austin might not be the best example of a prospect who is simply too good for his current level and should be bumped up a level. These are arbitrary endpoints but I’m not motivated enough to find and go through game logs – Austin’s been striking out at a relatively healthy rate (which I’m not saying is a red flag, but it’s not like pitchers just can’t put one by him) and he’s hitting .182./281./418 in May.

        • jjyank

          Thank you. I didn’t meant to imply that by promoting Mason, he would be rushed. As Mike noted in the article, high school guys usually are taken more slowly.

          If Voice of Reason up there had properly comprehended my words, he would see that I am all for an early promotion for Mason if he is not adequately challenged in Charleston. In some cases, promoting too quickly can be a bad thing, and I usually support a conservative approach with prospects. But it seems that Mason might just be an exception to that rule, and that’s all I said.

      • jjyank

        This didn’t sound like anything a “voice of reason” would say. Maybe you should change your handle. Read my comment again, slower this time.

        • Voice of Reason

          Hyuck hyuck hyuck. My mistake re: Williams, but “I’d prefer that the Yankees not rush their prospects, but…” is a pretty serious hedge, one of the type made by people who use the word “rush” way too loosely. And my admittedly hasty assumptions about your beliefs wound up being affirmed later.

          People have a tendency to talk about the horrifying spectre of rushing any time there’s talk of a young prospect being promoted, even when there’s no reason at all to think the promotion is unwarranted. Why would it even come to mind in this situation? And even so, what’s to be afraid of? I don’t know that you should be formulating any rules of prospect promotion based on promotions that happen “too quickly” being “bad” in “some cases.” Sounds more like a vibe or something that, if true, would makes things really neat, rather than something with a real strong basis in fact.

          And I didn’t say Tyler Austin is “too good,” nor would I say Mason Williams is “too good” for that matter. I also didn’t say either of them absolutely must be promoted or even that I think they should be, just that based on their performance one shouldn’t expect them to be out of their depth at the next level. Sure, he’s striking out and not getting many hits on balls in play this month, but who says you need to wait until every phase of a player’s game is perfected before he can play in the Florida State League? He’s been one of the absolute best hitters at his level, he’s almost certain to be promoted relatively soon, and unless he completely tanks in the coming weeks that promotion will not have been ill-advised. Who knows for sure if a player’s ready for a level until he’s there?

  • TQStormrider6

    Are there O-Swing%s for minor leaguers? Is he just swinging at and connecting to pitches he sees in the zone, or is he a bad ball hitter?

    • Mike Axisa

      Some sites carry plate discipline stats for the low minors but it’s totally unreliable.

  • Guest

    Great article. I’m a lay idiot, so I know my opinion isn’t worth much, but I completely agree that Williams’ uncanny ability to put Low-A pitches in play is a great sign that he needs to move to Tampa.

    At the next level, maybe some of those breaking pitches/changes that he’s currently putting into play have enough late movement that he fouls them off or misses them entirely. That will force him to adjust and determine which pitches he should be swinging at since he won’t be able to make solid enough contact on all of them.

    • Voice of Reason

      yeah, an outrageously low strike out rate when combined with some degree of power – which Williams has shown – is a pretty great indicator for a young hitter. Ifs and buts and all that (and it’s hard to say what his true talent level is given his brief history) but if his BABIP was where you might’ve expected, his numbers could be really eye popping right now.

  • Paul VuvuZuvella

    Baseball America on Tyler following last nights game: “We have liftoff on Austin’s prospect ascent”.
    I’m going to Charleston on May 24 and catching a week of games so hoping no promotions until June !

  • Manny’s BanWagon

    At least Williams can actually play a position so hopefully he’ll remain in the Yankees long term plans.

  • bg90027

    Isn’t Slade Heathcott due back soon and doesn’t that complicate the idea of promoting Williams?