Less than a year ago, Baseball Prospectus evaluator Tucker Blair went to see Mason Williams, then a member of the Double-A Trenton Thunder. In his scouting report, Blair didn't just give Williams poor marks. He straight up Ether'd the Yankees outfield prospect. Some of the nuggets in the report included the following:
"Lost at the plate; has no plan at all; approach is poor; constantly behind in counts; swinging at pitches outside the zone and getting tied up on pitches grooved in the middle of the plate"
"Williams showed nothing in my viewing. His bat was extremely inconsistent and he failed to produce the same swing throughout an entire series."
"The most concerning part about Williams' game was the effort. I did not get the impression that he cared, and it often felt like he had already lost or failed before he stepped up to bat."
Williams finished his disastrous 2014 season with .223/.290/.304 batting line, not exactly what the Yankees expected from the player who was once rated as the 32nd best prospect in baseball.
In 2015, however, the lazy, apathetic Mason Williams has disappeared. He showed signs of life in spring training, with five hits in 16 at bats (four of which were for extra bases). In Trenton, he put up an on-base percentage of .407, and has continued his success in Scranton-Wilkesbarre, with an OBP of .378. At first glance, it sure looks as if the once highly-touted prospect has regained some of his promise.
But based on some very small sample sizes, it looks like the future is now for the speedy outfielder. Last month, Fangraphs' Chris Mitchell looked at Triple-A players with the hopes of finding out which stats predict MLB performance. His study concluded that one great stat to look at is contact % on pitches inside the strike zone. According to Minor League Central, Williams' Z-Contact% at Triple-A is at a stellar 90.9%, a cut above the league average of 84.5%.
Williams has also exhibited good plate discipline with the Rail Riders, swinging at 24.3% of pitches outside the zone. League average is 32.2%. Because of Chris Young's ability to hit lefties, Williams will probably see righty pitching more than anything. His ability to make consistent contact suggests that he will be able to catch up to big league heat.
There's always the issue of BABIP and regression to mean. Williams' great numbers in the minors are certainly bolstered by his high BABIP numbers. But he has the potential to keep a high BABIP in the big leagues. Even the scathing Baseball Prospectus scouting report said Williams possessed great agility and bat speed, both of which correlate well with a high BABIP. In addition, he has shown the ability to hit to all fields, especially against righties. Here is his 2015 spray chart against RHP's, courtesy of Daren Willman at MLBfarm.com:
The one caveat to the Mason Williams hype is that he doesn't hit very many line drives. Most of the balls he hits the other way to left field are flyballs. But Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell have already helped hitters like Brian McCann to stop popping up. He will also have top of the line lefty contact hitters like Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury to talk to in the clubhouse.
After some hustle issues last season and some off the field issues, Williams is getting a second chance that several failed prospects would love to have. So far, he has done a phenomenal job making the most of that second chance. Now it's time for him to prove himself against the best competition in the world.