At a table near the back of a White Plains diner isn’t exactly the place you expect to find the future center fielder of the New York Yankees, but that’s exactly where I met Mason Williams. And there are plenty of people who truly believe he’s moving closer and closer to filling one of baseball’s most storied positions.
Make no mistake about it, Williams is still very young, with a very long way to go, and it’s ridiculous to put too much hope and expectation into a kid like that. But for a 20-year-old with considerable prospect hype, Williams made a terrific first impression as a guy who doesn’t expect anything to come too quickly or too easily. He seemed comfortable — confident but still humble — as he looked ahead to this season and all that comes next.
There are definitely things I’m trying to improve on, but also I’m definitely trying to build from last year. I don’t want to try to get complacent or anything like that. I feel like I definitely have a lot to work on, but last year definitely helps me with my confidence a little more, saying that I have the ability to go out there and play, do what I can do and stay within yourself.
Are there specific parts of your game that you need to improve, or do you think that you’ve just got to get older and better and add some experience?
I have to be smarter with the game. I have to learn the little things. There are definitely things I want to work on, but right now, where I am right now today, I just feel like I have to be smarter about the game.
You look at that Staten Island team you were with last year, you had some legitimate guys throughout the lineup, and the same could be true in Charleston this year. Do you guys notice the young core of players building in the lower levels? Do you start thinking about all of you staying together?
Yes. Absolutely. I remember after we won the championship last year, we were in the locker room showering up after the game and I was talking to Cito (Culver). I was like, man, I know we can do this next year in Charleston. If we have the same team, the same players there’s no one that can beat us out there. I just feel like our confidence is there. Earlier in Staten Island, we actually had the record with maybe 14 or 15 wins in a row. I feel like that set us up for success the rest of the season, having that confidence, basically playing almost all the teams that we play and beating them all, knowing there wasn’t another team in there that was better than us.
Do you start thinking about bringing that core to Tampa, and then Trenton and all the way to New York?
I think about it, yeah, but as of right now, we’re all in early spring training. Spring training is about to come up, and we’re all here. Ever since I’ve been drafted, I’ve been playing with the same group of guys, so I feel like our camaraderie between the eight or nine of the young ones I was drafted with, they’re great. I’ve been with them in instructs, spring training, early spring training, extended spring training, in the Dominican. Everywhere I’ve gone, they’ve been with me.
You see the Core Four and what that meant in New York. Do you start to see the impact of keeping a core group of players together throughout?
It’s like I said, not really growing up, but growing up as a Yankee with them. We’ve been together, and it’s all we know, and it’s all I know being with my guys. I want to be with them at all times and play with them as much as I can, because I feel comfortable with them.
The Yankees have Slade Heathcott, and they have Ravel Santana coming up behind you. There’s legitimate center field talent all around you. What does that do for you? It’s that a challenge? Motivation?
Absolutely. I guess you could say we’re fighting for a spot. It’s definitely motivation. I go in there everyday thinking, no one’s better than me. Try to have confidence every day, and let’s try to get better every single day and learn something every single day and see where it takes me.
How much do you pay attention to these prospect lists?
Not really. I’ll hear about it, but I’ll never go online or wherever they go to look it up. If I hear about it, it’s good to know that I’m up there, but I’ve still got to play the game. I’ve still got to do the little things right.
It’s got to be reassuring, because I have to think that when you’re in Staten Island or doing this early spring training work, you feel like you’re kind of out there, a long way from anything, with nobody paying attention.
It is, but like I said, I’ve still got a long way in my eyes. I still feel like there’s a lot to learn. I have a lot to still get developed. I feel like a lot of us young guys do, so I’m trying to take baby steps right now and work every day and try to see where it takes me.
What are you doing at this point in the offseason?
We’re doing early spring training for five weeks, Monday through Friday. It’s basically the same stuff we do in spring training, but no games in the afternoons. It’s definitely a spring training environment right now.
You’re heading for full-season ball for the first time, playing 140 games or whatever it’s going to be. Does that feel like another challenge?
Last year I was in extended spring training and then I went to Staten Island. I actually played in, I think, 134 games last year so, to my eyes, that’s almost a full season, and I didn’t really get fatigued later in the season and in the playoffs like I thought I would. I thought maybe my bat would feel heavier and whatnot, but I actually felt real good in the playoffs. I wasn’t fatigued. I think the playoffs is where I excelled more than in the season. I felt good.
Photo from my good friend Mike Ashmore