Falling in love with prospects is a little like asking to be constantly disappointed. For every prospect that makes it to the majors for your favorite team (or at all, really), dozens of others never live up to what you thought they might be or are traded to become the object of some other fan base's affection.
Knowing the odds doesn't stop me from following prospects almost as closely as I do the players in the majors. There's something about seeing players go from unknown kids to household names that draws me in and I can't help but become invested in what goes on in Scranton, Trenton, Tampa, and Charleston. Especially Charleston this year, because the team is packed with prospects that prospect lists have told us we should know about. Getting to see the RiverDogs play last weekend was pretty exciting, but having a chance to speak to two of the players who have generated the bulk of the excitement so far this season was by far the coolest thing that writing for PSA has allowed me to do.
If you happen to be unfamiliar, Mason Williams and Tyler Austin are basically the top outfield prospects in the Yankee system. Their exact rankings vary depending on the list you are looking at, but Mike Axisa at RAB had them ranked 2nd and 15th, respectively, on his pre-season list, while MLB.com has Williams at #4 and Austin at #14. Williams is a fairly prototypical speedy centerfielder, while Austin was originally drafted as a catcher before he was moved to third base, and then moved to right field to accommodate RiverDogs teammate Dante Bichette Jr. After performing exceptionally well last season, both players have had their success carry over in their first full season of professional baseball with the RiverDogs so far this season.
You've managed to cut down on the strikeouts so far this year. What adjustments have you made that helped you to do that?
Mason: Not a lot of different adjustments. Still swinging at good pitches and trying to find a good pitch to hit.
Your dad also played professional sports. Has his experience with pro football helped you with your baseball career at all?
Mason: Yeah, absolutely. He definitely talks a lot about the mental part of the game. I guess baseball and football aren't really alike; football you play once a week, but baseball you play every day. Say you have a bad game one day, you have to turn around and play the next day. So it's not like football where you have to take your five days of rest to play one game a week . But yes, definitely on the mental side of the game.
Do you find it more challenging or more overwhelming that at 20 years old you are already at or near the top of most Yankee prospect lists?
Mason: Neither. I still feel like I have to come out here and play my game and play hard and play to win.
Yankee fans can be kind of intense sometimes, but you seem to be handling it well with over 2,000 followers on Twitter. Do you think that interaction will help you as you are promoted through the system and eventually make it to the majors, where there are even more fans and more media?
Mason: Hopefully. I definitely remember when the Super Bowl was here, because I'm a Patriots fan, I was getting a lot of crap from Yankee fans. Some of them were saying 'trade me' or whatever, but I guess that's just part of the game. Besides that, I still love my Twitter fans and I love all my followers.
What major league player of the past or present do you think you are most comparable to?
Mason: I would want to say Carl Crawford because he's been my favorite player. I try to do a lot of the things that he does. Hopefully Carl Crawford.
You know that's not going to go over well.
Mason: No, no. But I was always a Carl Crawford fan since he was on the Rays. Always on the Rays.
You were drafted as a catcher, which is an extremely demanding defensive position. Has moving to the outfield changed your approach at the plate at all, since you don't have to focus on calling pitches and working with different pitchers?
Tyler: I wouldn't say I've changed anything really. Over the last few weeks, pitchers have been pitching me differently, but I wouldn't say I've changed anything because of the move to the outfield or anything like that. It hasn't been any more difficult.
Your power numbers have really increased so far this season. What has been the key to your success there?
Tyler: I would say taking quality rounds in batting practice, doing the little things right during BP, doing my flips and stuff like that has really helped out a lot. I'm hitting the weight room pretty hard this season as well, so I feel like all three of those have been a big factor in my success so far.
Most power hitters don't steal a ton of bases, but you've only been caught once in your career. How have you managed to be so successful at that part of the game?
Tyler: Being in a good count, the hitters behind me, picking a count that I feel is best for me to run and steal that base. I would say that it's just knowing the counts and knowing who is hitting behind me that has really contributed to that.
What was your reaction when you found out you'd been drafted by the Yankees?
Mason: It was actually more shock than thrill or happiness or excitement. I guess I didn't believe it for the first few minutes. I called my parents to kind of get a realization, I guess, to see if it was actually real, if it was real life. But yeah, definitely mostly shock.
Tyler: There were so many emotions going around my house. My family was obviously ecstatic for me, and I was as well, because the Yankees have always been my favorite team growing up. So it was an unbelievable experience.
You're part of a core group of players that were all promoted to Charleston at the same time. Has that helped your adjustment to the next level?
Mason: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of these kids I've been here with since day one, ever since I got to the Yankees organization. I've been with Ben Gamel, Tyler Austin, Cito Culver, Angelo Gumbs; I've been with them since day one, so I feel like the camaraderie between us is awesome.
Tyler: No, not really. All the guys who have been up here with me are all great guys. This whole team is loaded with nothing but talent. Everyone is a prospect here, and we all get along good and play good together. I wouldn't say it's helped me adjust or anything, but I really enjoy playing here with these guys.
Both of you were selected for the All-Star Game that is being played in Charleston. What does that accomplishment mean to you? Is it more exciting that you'll be getting to play in your home ballpark in front of your fans?
Mason: Absolutely. There's definitely a lot of excitement, going back to Charleston, seeing our home fans and having them cheer us on and be the awesome fans that they are. It's true that hard work pays off and seeing that I made the All-Star Game was a big nod for me.
Tyler: It means a lot to me. I've worked really hard this year and over the past two years to get where I am at now, but I feel like it's going to be an unbelievable experience playing in Charleston. We have an unbelievable fan base and it's going to be a great time.
Thanks to Mason and Tyler for taking the time to answer my questions, and Charleston Media Director Sean Houston for setting everything up. Hopefully we'll be getting to know a lot more about these two guys over the next few years.