Interview Outtakes: Yankees Prospect Mason Williams Answers Seven Questions about Playing Center Field

This morning, MiLB.com published the third part of my nine-part series on top-ranked prospects who are also top-rated defenders. The piece (linked here) focuses on Yankees center fielder Mason Williams (bio, stats here), the 10th-ranked outfield prospect in all of baseball, and his big-play ability. In terms of interview extras, see below. Enjoy.

(Credit: Matt Burton MiLB.com)

(Credit: Matt Burton/MiLB.com)

  1. On how he ended up in center field: “Growing up, I actually played shortstop. I was an infielder growing up. My sophomore year of high school, I started playing center field. I could cover a good bit amount of ground out there. I feel like I’m confident enough to play the outfield and have good range and am definitely trying to get better at it. I was thoroughly OK with the change. I’d play wherever. I just wanted to play. I definitely feel very comfortable in center field, and I love how I’ve been working there.”
  2. On learning the nuances of CF: “It was an OK adjustment because I had a good amount of experience before I signed. One of the things I had to work with was my throwing angles. Because I played shortstop when I was younger growing up, your arm slot is definitely different throwing from shortstop than it is from center field. [I'm] definitely working on working on top more and getting more backspin on my balls in the outfield [so that] they have the ability to carry more. That was something I really worked on. I feel very good how I have come along since my first year, but I still have a lot of things to work on. One of the things I have been working on recently is having a better first step or jump in the outfield. It’s mental and physical: knowing the pitcher and the batter, whatever the score and inning is. There are definitely situations where I play differently in the outfield. And it’s physical: I get a lot of reps in practice. That’s the best time to work on it.”
  3. On an example of how he takes his first step on the ball: “Usually, your power hitters, the guys that have a little bit of pop at the plate, I will play them to pull and a little bit deeper than I would a leadoff hitter or someone in the lower half of the lineup. The biggest thing is getting a lot of reps at practice and doing it the right way. [The BOB drill] is most of my help. BOB is Balls Off the Bat. That’s where I get my first jumps, and that’s definitely a huge part of my learning process in the outfield.”
  4. On how good defense can make up for lagging offense: “I definitely want to contribute in any way I can. Say I’m having a bad day at the plate, maybe I’ll go out to the outfield and make a play. If I’m not impacting the game on offense, I want to try to impact it on defense.”
  5. On what he does to ensure he’s defending correctly: “I personally don’t watch as much video of my defense as I do my hitting. I watch a lot of video of my hitting. Say, if I’m not hitting well, I like to go back a year or two to when I was hitting well, I [look for] what I was doing right then that I’m not doing now. [On defense], it’s about trusting my instincts and getting as much reps as I can. If you do the reps in practice the right way, you’re going to carry that out to the game.”
  6. On what is hard about playing CF: “Communication is not looked at or talked about [enough]. I would say that I communicate with my outfield. I feel like myself and my fellow outfielders communicate a lot, and we’re always moving around; we’re never staying the same spot… I wouldn’t say we communicate every pitch, but every three or four pitches we say something or we’ll make eye contact to see where each other are. I like to know before every pitch where my left and right fielders are… [Calling off a teammate] is a feel thing, but you definitely have to say, “I got it, I got it.” Say the ball is hit to the warning track, you can tell your other outfielders, ‘Hey, you’re near the track,’ or ‘Close to the fence,’ to let him know. A big part of communication in the outfield are those little fly balls that go behind second base or right around the shortstop, [creating] triangles [of fielders] around second base. Those are times when communication plays a big role.”
  7. On other CFers he likes to watch: “I used to like to watch Ken Griffey Jr. He’s always been my favorite player since I was young. Now that he’s not in the game, I like to watch [the Tigers'] Austin Jackson, who came through the Yankees [system]. I definitely like to watch [the Orioles'] Adam Jones. I definitely like to pick pieces of their game and make it my own. Definitely how explosive their first steps are off the bat. They take outstanding jumps and outstanding leads almost 100 percent of the time. So if I can watch how they come off the ball, I like to try to make it my own way.”

***

(Credit: Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

(Credit: Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

I also spoke with Yankees’  instructor/international player development coordinator Pat McMahon. Beyond the McMahon-provided material that made it into the article, here are some extras from him. Enjoy

  • On Williams’ work ethic: “He demands an awful lot out of himself, and I think that’s a positive. That’s not atypical of other players, but he places high demands on himself. Now controlling that is something he works very hard on.”
  • On Williams’ range: “Watching him go get balls is really special. You watch one player go get a ball in the outfield, and then another player makes it look easier. The distance he can go to get balls and make them look like easy plays, it’s just like, ‘Wow.'”
  • On Williams’ positioning: “He breaks on the ball very well, and he’s working very hard on defensive positioning and reading of swings so that he can get to balls in game situations as they occur. Some outfielders don’t see that, but he works very hard on understanding a hitter and his swing against a various pitcher.”
  • On comparing Williams to other outfielders: “He’s in the elite category.”

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