Yanks place five on BA’s Top 20 NYPL prospects list

(David Schofield/MiLB.com)

Baseball America’s look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued with the Short Season NY-Penn League today, and the Yankees are very well represented. Mason Williams unsurprisingly topped the list, and in the subsciber-only scouting report, they say he “stays through the ball well with a simple lefthanded swing.” His “quick hands generate surprising bat speed,” which should allow for average power down the road. “Williams has plus to plus-plus speed that plays on the bases and in center field, though he’s still refining his basestealing ability and his outfield routes,” they added. “He has a solid-average arm and projects as a plus defender in center fielder.”

Cito Culver, the team’s first round pick last year, placed sixth. “He stood out most with his defense, showing smooth actions, average range and a well above-average arm at shortstop,” said the write-up, which also backed up previous reports that he’s a switch-hitter but better from the right side. Tyler Austin was two spots behind Culver at number eight, and is lauded for his plate discipline and ability to handle offspeed stuff. “He has above-average raw power and is capable of hitting balls out of the park to all fields,” said BA. The move to third base (from behind the plate) has been successful so far, but they note that Austin has to improve his footwork and become more aggressive.

Ranking 14th is Angelo Gumbs, last year’s second rounder. “[An] athletic, high-energy player with electric bat speed and a quality all-around toolset,” Gumbs has the bat speed and strength to hit for good power. A former shortstop and centerfielder, he’s working on learning second base, though some think he’d be better off in the outfield because his strong arm is a waste on the right side of the infield. The fifth and final Yankee farmhand on the list is Branden Pinder, a 16th rounder this year that ranked 19th on the list. “He streamlined his repertoire in a relief role, attacking hitters with a lively 93-94 mph fastball that topped out at 96.” Pinder is also said to have a sharp slider and a long delivery with good deception.

Very nice showing for the Baby Bombers, who won their league title this year. The next top 20 list of interest to the Yankees is the Low-A South Atlantic League, which will beĀ  revealed on Wednesday. I’m not sure if Slade Heathcott, Rob Segedin, and J.R. Murphy spend enough time with Charleston to qualify for the list, but Gary Sanchez, Ramon Flores, Nik Turley, and Tommy Kahnle all have a chance to make an appearance.

Keith Law on Williams and Gamel

Yesterday we heard Keith Law’s unflattering opinion of Cito Culver, but today he posted something on two other Short Season Staten Island hotshots: Mason Williams and Ben Gamel (Insider req’d). “Mason is loose-bodied and an above-average runner, but needs to get a lot stronger and to work on recognition of offspeed pitches — he struck out twice in ugly fashion on breaking balls,” said KLaw. “He glides forward when he strides, reducing his time to recognize non-fastballs, but there is some bat speed there and it’s a great baseball body.”

As for Gamel, Law said he “at least showed that he recognized the difference between a ball and a strike, but struggled with picking up the changeup, not a huge shock for a teenaged hitter with only ten games of pro experience to that point. He has good hip rotation but tries to get his arms extended on balls on the inner half, which is just going to result in a lot of weak contact or foul balls … The fact that he showed a clue at the plate (on a night when most of the lineup was flailing) is a real positive.” I like Gamel but he’s going to have a hit because his defensive value in the corner outfield figures to be small. Having a decent approach less than a month after your 19th birthday is a pretty good start.

KLaw’s Top Sleeper Prospects For 2011

Now that his organizational rankings and top 100 prospects list is out, Keith Law is closing out his week of prospect coverage with an Insider-only piece looking at sleeper prospects for the upcoming season. He listed one player for every team, and went with 2010 fourth round pick Mason Williams for the Yankees. “[He] was one of the best athletes in the 2010 draft, with plus speed and a plus arm,” said KLaw. “He has good instincts for a multi-sport guy, especially in center field and he makes his raw speed play up on the bases. He’s got surprising pop for his size but will have to prove he can maintain his approach against decent pitching.”

Williams signed for $1.45M not long before the deadline, the largest signing bonus the Yankees gave out this year. Here the prospect profile I put together for him back in November.

Prospect Profile: Mason Williams

(Photo Credit: West Orange Times)

Mason Williams | CF

Background
Born and raised in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Williams grew up a Red Sox fan and later moved to Winter Haven, Florida with his family when he was 13. His father Derwin was drafted by the Reds out of college, but he instead pursued football, playing 42 games at wide receiver for the New England Patriots from 1985 to 1987. Mason starred both on the mound and in the outfield for West Orange High School, leading the Warriors to district championships as a sophomore, junior, and senior. During the summers he played for the Midland Redskins, a competitive travel team based out of Cincinnati, who helped to a pair of Connie Mack championships.

Committed to South Carolina, Baseball America ranked Williams the 145th best prospect in the draft this spring. The Yankees selected him with their fourth round pick, which sure enough was #145 overall. In a beautiful little slice of baseball symmetry, Williams signed right on the August 16th deadline for (you guess it), $1.45M. It was the largest bonus given to a draftee by the Yankees this year by half-a-million dollars.

Pro Debut
Williams reported to New York’s rookie level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League after signing, where he picked up four singles and a walk in just 19 plate appearances spread across five games. He struck out four times and stole a base, getting caught twice. Williams then participated in Dominican Instructional League after the season.

Scouting Report
Long and lanky, Williams checks in at 6-foot-0, 150 lbs. and is an outstanding athlete. He’s a legitimate prospect at both shortstop and in centerfield because of fast-twitch quickness, closing speed, good hands, and a powerful arm that unleashed upper-80’s fastballs in high school. The Yankees had him play strictly centerfield with the GCL Yanks, and chances are he’ll remain there. Regardless, Williams has the tools to be a well-above average defender at either position.

His offensive game is built around everything but power, which isn’t surprising given his build. Williams has a sweet lefty swing geared for hard contact, and he gets himself into good hitter’s counts with an advanced approach. His speed is an asset on the bases, though he can get a little reckless at times and run himself into outs. Future power may or may not come, it depends entirely on how Williams matures physically. Still just 19, he could grow into a 15 homer hitter, but otherwise cracking double digits will be a chore. There are no concerns about his makeup, and he obviously has good athletic bloodlines.

Here’s a video of one of Williams taking some hacks for his summer league team.

2011 Outlook
Williams could probably handle the jump into a full season league next year and survive on athleticism alone, but look for the Yanks to hold him back in Extended Spring Training before assigning him to Short Season Staten Island in June. If Williams performs well early in the year, they could be aggressive and bump him up to Low-A Charleston. Either way, don’t expect him to move that quickly, he’s a one level a year kind of prospect.

My Take
Depending on who you ask, Williams is the best prospect the Yankees drafted this summer. They went for upside and athleticism, and Williams offers the most well-rounded package of both, with good baseball skills and polish. I’m always concerned about low power guys because they could be prone to having the bat knocked out of their hands by good fastballs at the upper levels, but we’re a long ways away from having that be a real problem for Williams. If he can keep the strikeouts to a minimum and use his speed, he’s got a chance to be a game-changing force atop a big league lineup.

Yankees reach agreement with fourth rounder Mason Williams

Via Jonathan Mayo, the Yankees have signed fourth rounder Mason Williams for $1.45M. It’s easily the largest bonus they’ve given out this year.

A big time athlete with speed and agility, Williams is a tremendous defender in center with enough offensive upside to remain interesting. His swing is sound and he’s not a total hacker, but he still has to refine his approach and add strength to hit for even average power. Like many of toolsy high schoolers the Yanks selected this year, Williams is a bit of a project. Here’s some video.

The Yanks have now signed their top 13 picks, and 16 of their top 17. Don’t expect any more big signings this year, they should be done.