Yanks place four on KLaw’s top 100 prospects list

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Spring prospect season is in full swing, starting yesterday with Keith Law’s organizational rankings. It continued today with his list of the game’s top 100 prospects (1-25, 26-50, 51-75, 76-100) and top ten prospects by team (all Insider req’d). The Yankees placed four in the top 100, which was unsurprisingly topped by Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Matt Moore. Manny Banuelos checks in at #23 (down from #12 last year), Mason Williams at #34, Gary Sanchez at #55, and Dellin Betances at #83. Jesus Montero is ranked ninth, one spot ahead of another old pal, Gerrit Cole.

“When he’s right, he’ll show an above-average fastball at 90-94 mph (but was a tick below that in 2011), an above-average to plus changeup and a solid-average curveball with good two-plane break,” said KLaw about Banuelos, while noting that his trademark command was off last season. “Everything still points to Banuelos commanding the ball in the long term as he did before 2011, and much of the disappointment in his season is a function of our high expectations for him. He still projects as a solid No. 2, assuming his previous level of command returns.”

Williams’ ranking was a bit surprising, but in a good way. I’m pretty sure you won’t see him that high anywhere else this year. “[The] most impressive part of [Williams’] game in 2011 was the quality of his at bats, which improved over the course of the summer,” said Law. “[He’s] barely begun to scratch the surface of his ability.” The biggest thing for Williams going forward is his size, not necessarily his tools. He just needs to bulk up and add some muscle to avoid having the bat knocked out of his hands by high-end fastballs at the upper levels.

The preseason hype machine was out of control with Sanchez last year, which is why it’s easy to think he had a disappointing season with Low-A Charleston. The attitude problems were disappointing, but the power and production certainly weren’t. “Sanchez’s first full year in pro ball had major positives and negatives — the bat is more advanced than anyone thought, and the glove is less so,” Law said. “He can really hit with present above-average power and projects to hit 30 to 35 homers a year down the road, having demonstrated a solid approach for an 18-year-old in full-season ball … He could be a star.”

Last but not least is Betances, who continues to look more and more like a reliever because he hasn’t improved his command at all in five years as a pro. “He’ll pitch in the low 90s but runs it up to 97 mph and would likely sit 94-97, if not better, in relief,” said KLaw, adding that his curveball and delivery are inconsistent. The latter contributes to his strike-throwing problem. “He’s 23 now, still not very experienced, but he has size and velocity you can’t teach. The lack of progress and athleticism make a bullpen role more likely than a spot in the top half of a rotation.”

Those four top Law’s list of the top ten Yankees prospects, followed by a surprising name at number five: Tyler Austin. There’s no write-up, but I have to think he believes in the bat and thinks Austin can stay at third base long-term to warrant a ranking that high. Jose Campos, Dante Bichette Jr., Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy, and Slade Heathcott round out the top ten. Ravel Santana is a top ten guy based on talent, but I have no problem with leaving him out given that devastating ankle injury. Law also published a list of ten prospects who just missed the Top 100 (Insider req’d), but no Yankees farmhands made the list. Just as a heads up, my Top 30 Prospects List is coming out next Friday, so hooray for that.

Update: ESPN NY has the full player comments for Banuelos, Williams, Sanchez, and Betances for free, so head over there to check them out.

Report: Mariners asked about Mason Williams during Pineda trade talks

Via Jon Heyman, the Mariners inquired about the availability of Mason Williams while discussing Michael Pineda with the Yankees earlier this offseason. Heyman also hears that Williams is drawing raves throughout the game, but that’s nothing new really. I have no problem with trading prospects who have yet to sniff full season ball, but there’s no way they could have done both Jesus Montero and Williams in the same package without getting Felix Hernandez back. I suspect we’re going to hear about many teams asking for Mason in the coming years.

MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects List

Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com published his list of baseball’s top 100 prospects yesterday, with Matt Moore, Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout unsurprisingly occupying the top three spots. Manny Banuelos ranks 13th, one spot behind Jesus Montero. I coulda sworn those positions were reversed last night and Banuelos was in front of Montero, but I guess I’m just going crazy. Dellin Betances is #41, Gary Sanchez is #53, and Mason Williams is #73. Mayo’s rankings always seem to buck the consensus a bit, which I like. Prospect ranking isn’t a perfect science.

Guest Post: Mason Williams Scouting Report

The following a guest post from David Gershman, better know as The Gersh around the Twitterverse. He spent last summer covering the NY-Penn League, and today gives us a firsthand scouting report on Mason Williams, the Yankees top position player prospect now that Jesus Montero is headed to Seattle. You can follow Gersh on Twitter at @Dave_Gershman.

(Photo via MiLB.com)

Of all the talent I was able to spectate in 2011, hardly anyone caught my eye to the extent of Mason Williams, Staten Island’s everyday center-fielder. The New York-Penn League technically ranks as the third lowest developmental level in baseball, ahead of the Pioneer and Appy Leagues and the Gulf Coast League. Therefore, finding talent to keep an eye on is somewhat rare. As a matter of fact, on a good year there might only be one elite-level talent worth watching in the Penn League. While I’m not claiming Williams to be an elite-level prospect, his upside and advanced skill-set are through the roof, clearly making him a must-see talent.

A scout once requested my opinion on Williams and my reasoning for touting him as much as I did last season. I replied, “After months of Extended Spring Training work, Williams began to hit the cover off of the ball right out of the gate and continued doing so even after the first week of the season. There wasn’t any point throughout the year in which he cooled off, and it was rather astonishing.” I labeled his everlasting performance as astonishing simply because inconsistency is so common amongst prospects at the short-season level. And it’s especially colloquial for those playing their first season as a professional. On to the report.

Williams is a terrific athlete with assets and upside that could make him an above-average major leaguer in the not-too-distant future. Quick hands, loads of bat speed and a smooth bat plain make him an advanced hitter, one that hits both lefties and righties without much problem for someone of his age and level. Williams is prone to making bad contact at times, given his high tendency to swing early in the count and, more importantly, at lousy pitches, but plate discipline is an aspect of his game I imagine he’ll be working to ameliorate until he reaches the majors.

While his approach needs some tuning, he has the right idea. As one professional scout noted, “a hitter constantly swinging at pitches early in the count would generally warrant some concern, but if the hitter is either making good contact with pitches in the zone or swinging at hittable pitches than there isn’t much of a problem, and Mason Williams often overdoes it, he customarily accounts for both.”

Williams has a thin and wiry frame, but contains tons of physicality and, in correspondence, some of the most physical upside the Yankees system. He isn’t expected to possess too much power down the road, but certainly enough to avoid being considered a “slap-hitter” of any sort. Remaining a center fielder isn’t a question, but the role system (at least according to two scouts), suggests that Angelo Gumbs might be a more adequate center-field option than Williams should both progress at a similar rate. Williams’ plus range and baseball instincts, at least for me, make him a more-than-viable candidate to be an every day center-fielder for the Yanks down the road.  Williams seemed to have developed refined accuracy as last season progressed. Accuracy sure is expected to develop accordingly, but arm strength is slightly different. As players fill out and develop more fortitude and muscle, they improve the distance and accuracy on their throws. Being that his arm is currently below average unquestionably is a non-issue.

Williams’ current and future tool grades are to the right and up a bit. If you need an explanation as to how these grades work, you can read my primer on how professional scouting reports are compiled.

The reason I gave Williams such a low power projection is mostly due to lack of leverage and loft in his swing. Although it’s quick and stays through the zone, it’s choppy and rather flat. That doesn’t make him a bad hitter by any means; it just decreases his power projection. That said, he’s shown the ability to hit to all fields and, in doing so, drive the ball. Additionally, I upgraded his overall future potential (OFP) because his range and speed suggest such an adjustment.

All professional scouts have a specific computer program that automatically adjusts OFP based on the weight of the prospect and his positional grade requirements. Meaning, center fielders are supposed to have plus range and speed, even if they aren’t that good of hitters. However, what if a first-baseman grades out to have 30 power but 70 speed and defense? His adjusted OFP would lower significantly since first base is a power position. Thus, center field is a speed and defense position.

The Yankees have a rare commodity in Williams, a clear center-fielder with the ability to hit. He’s only 20-years of age, so the Yankees obviously won’t be rushing him at any point. That said, if he shows he can hit in Charleston I’d expect him to finish the season off in Tampa and eventually head to Trenton sometime in 2013. Unlike his time spent in Staten Island, Williams won’t be hitting .349 in Charleston this season, but you can unequivocally expect a to see improvements and maturity in Mason Williams’ game. He’s a bright player with a bright future.

Scout’s Notes via Josh Norris

You may have missed them over the holiday weekend, but Josh Norris published a series of short posts with quotes from scouts about various Yankees’ prospects. Among the players covered are system headliners Jesus Montero (“He might be Miguel Cabrera”), Manny Banuelos (“I think he’s the real deal”), Mason Williams (“an above-average major league center field profile”), and Dellin Betances (“he’s going to be a bullpen guy”). Corban Joseph, Angelo Gumbs, Cito Culver, Branden Pinder, and personal fave Bryan Mitchell were covered as well, and Norris also posted an interview with Adam Warren. They’re all quick reads and get RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so check ’em out.

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 be  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.