Yankees AFL Preview


March 23, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins shortstop

Brian Dozier

(77) forces out New York Yankees outfielder

Mason Williams

(85) in the seventh inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It was not too long ago, just this past winter in fact, that the Yankees appeared to boast arguably the most talented trio of outfield prospects in the game. This season, however, either by injury or ineffectiveness, all three of those prospects, Tyler Austin, Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott, saw their stock plummet. It was a unnoticed, sad facet of an already dismal Yankee season. Luckily for two of the three outfielders, Williams and Austin, the Arizona Fall League offers a slight chance at redemption. They will join breakout catcher Peter O’brien as the Yankees representatives on the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Mason Williams – Williams, 21, was ranked by Keith Law as the 35th overall prospect in baseball and by Baseball America as the 41st overall prospect heading into the season. By the time the Top 50 midseason rankings rolled around, he had fallen off both their lists. Exposed to the Florida State League (A+ level) for the first time (aside from just 22 games in 2012) and then briefly to the Eastern league (AA), Williams saw his offensive numbers drop across the board. He looked completely over matched, putting up an anemic .245/.302/.337 slash line (it .298/.346/.474, a .641 OPS (it was .820 last year), and hitting only 4 home runs (he hit 11 in 119 fewer at bats last season). Once touted as a prospect who could hit 15-20 home runs in the majors with a .280 – .300 batting and stellar defense in center, Williams is only 21 and still has plenty of time to put his career back on track. He’ll start with the AFL in October.

Tyler Austin – Although not as toolsy or as projectable as Williams, Austin found his way onto the prospect radar by showing excellent ability with the bat in 2012. In 472 plate appearances across four different levels (mostly A and A+), Austin thrashed to a .322/.400/559 batting line with 17 home runs. Everything fell apart this year. In 83 games for Trenton (AA), he hit only six home runs,  and sputtered to a .257/.344/.373 line. Adding insult to injury, he missed almost the entirety of the summer with a wrist injury. Austin will look to make up for the missed games and get his swing back on track in the AFL He lacks the defensive chops that Williams has, so he’ll have to start hitting again if he is to ever be a productive big leaguer.

Peter O’brien – The lone bright spot on this list, O’brien,22, broke out this year with a monster campaign in A and A+ ball. He was drafted in the second round of last year’s draft and then showed good pop, hitting 10 home runs in his 212 professional at bats, but got on base at a troubling pace, hitting .212 with a .256 OBP. The young catcher managed to improve his on base ability and maintain his home run swing, going yard 22 times while getting on base at a .350 clip. 20 year old Gary Sanchez has long been considered the future of the Yankees behind the dish, but O’brien, who is closer to the majors and has proven himself statistically to a much greater degree, could leapfrog him.