One of the interns for the Trenton Thunder asked me not too long ago what my favorite part about being a sports writer was. Plain and simple, it’s the access, and the Double-A level where I am credentialed is probably the perfect spot to be at. For the most part, you are talking with players who have the potential to be impact players someday, but you are getting a chance to really sit down and chat with them, and you see how willing they are to tell their story. This week, I got a chance to sit down with one of the Thunder’s newest additions, top prospect Mason Williams. Despite being blasted last year as immature after a DUI arrest while with the Tampa Yankees, Williams really is a genuinely nice kid. He’s soft-spoken, yet so immensely talented that he immediately commands respect. He’s had a difficult time at the plate thus far for Trenton, but he’s getting the same cup of coffee in Double-A that triggered some of the successes Ramon Flores and J.R. Murphy had in 2013.
Q: In your first couple of weeks in Double-A, what have you had to change in your approach now that you’ve moved up to the upper levels of the minor leagues?
A: Definitely by seeing more pitches here. You’re most likely really only going to get one pitch to hit, and you have to hit it, not foul it off or miss it. But I’m definitely now concentrating on trying to see more pitches and being more selective.
Q: You got a late season promotion much like Tyler (Austin) and (Ramon) Flores did last year. Do you think it will give you an advantage going into next year? How so?
A: Absolutely. Right now, I’m here really trying to get used to the Double-A life, just trying to get my feet wet. Definitely just trying to pick up on the little things that have a different (feel) than High-A. But yeah, I think it’s definitely going to give me an advantage for next year and hopefully I’ll have a little more confidence.
Q: With the talk about confidence…The batting average hasn’t really been there so far, but you have hit safely in seven of your last ten (games). Is that something where you’re able to look at it and at least build some confidence off the fact that game by game, you’re seeing enough pitches to get on base?
A: Even if I don’t get a hit, if I can make a play defensively or, for instance last night we had extra innings, and I didn’t have any hits going into the tenth inning. I actually did something, put a bunt down that actually helped us win the game. If I can do anything like that to help us win, especially when we’re in a playoff run right now. You know, anything I can do to help the team get a win and help us make the playoff run.
Q: Last year you lost some development time to the shoulder injury (torn labrum). What is one skill you feel you’ve improved this year?
A: I would probably say I’m a little smarter baseball player than last year. I just really want to get smarter, whether it’s on the bases, defensively, hitting. I would say numbers don’t mean too much to me right now. Especially coming from High-A and now I’m here adjusting to life. Right now I’m more focused on making a playoff run. If I can get a little smarter as a baseball player overall, I should be okay.
Q: You’re the latest in a line of major outfield prospects in Trenton – Heathcott, Flores, Austin – do you feel any additional pressure to measure up to what some of them have done this year?
A: No, not really. Whatever I do out there in the game, I still have to play my game, my style of play. Obviously everyone knows those other guys can play outstanding and they’re all great players. I’m just trying to take it day-by-day and play my style of ball.
I also got Williams’ manager, Tony Franklin, in on the action, asking about his early returns on Mason’s abilities and needs for improvement.
Q: You’ve now had Mason for about two weeks. What are your early opinions as to what he needs to improve on, and where is he already equivalent or better to the level?
A: I can tell you this. He hasn’t been here long enough to reflect on anything. We threw him right into the mix here. No doubt this game is going so fast for him right now that he doesn’t even have a chance to think. All he knows is he needs to show up and play everyday (with) no time to think about what they’re really trying to do to him. We’ve got guys talking to him, things of that nature, but until this is over and you’ve got a chance to sit and reflect on what actually happened to you, you’re not going to see what actually is going on. I asked Mason about four games ago, ‘How many times have you walked since you’ve been here?’ And the reason I asked him that is because the first pitch he saw that he could put a bat on, he swung at it. But that’s what most youngsters do. The first fastball they see, they want to hit and we’re always trying to get him to just slow down and think with a little clarity, because you’re going so fast you’re not thinking real clear. But when you slow down, you see what pitch is coming and you take a pitch, then you get ball one, and you might ball two, then you’re in a good hitter’s count and you might get a good fastball to hit and that’s all I need him to do. Slow down, take some pitches, take your walks. I think that’s one area he needs to improve on – take your walks, get on base because you’re at the top of the order and you’re a pretty good player because I think everything else’ll fall into place. I think he’s got the ability to hit. He’s certainly got the ability to play defense. It’s just a matter of being a little more consistent with his game. Getting on base, increasing his on-base percentage and things of that nature. Once he does that, I think he’ll be fine. He’s like most youngsters…he wants to hit. But most young hitters, they want to trade good at-bats for hits. They want hits, because their averages are reflective of what they’ve done.