Sanchez, Williams crack Top 100 Prospects list
Catcher has pop in bat, strong arm; outfielder has speed, plays strong defense
NEW YORK -- Catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielder Mason Williams have been listed among baseball's brightest prospects for the 2014 season by MLB.com.
The list, which was officially revealed on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday night, slots Sanchez as the game's No. 47 prospect. Williams is ranked at No. 75 on the list, which is headed by Twins outfielder Byron Buxton and Red Sox infielder Xander Bogaerts.
The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLBPipeline.com Draft and prospect experts Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLBPipeline.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2014.
The Yankees had three players on last year's list, when Sanchez and Williams cracked the Top 50. Outfielder Tyler Austin fell short of the Top 100 this year after having his 2013 campaign shortened by a wrist injury.
Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner expressed disappointment in the club's player development pipeline after the season, largely because the Minor League clubs struggled to patch over a rash of injuries at the big league level.
After the season, the Yanks evaluated their system from top to bottom. Steinbrenner decided to keep Mark Newman and Damon Oppenheimer in their scouting and player development roles for the 2014 season, but the team is trying to improve communication with scouts and expand the influence of roving instructors like Gil Patterson and Jody Reed.
"We looked at this thing from top to bottom," Steinbrenner said. "It's really easy to say, 'Get rid of this guy, get rid of this guy, get rid of that guy.' There are certainly some owners that might do that, but that doesn't always solve the problem."
Sanchez, 21, has been touted as one of the Yankees' catchers of the future since being signed for $3 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2009. Those projections were clouded somewhat when the club committed five years and $85 million to seven-time All-Star Brian McCann in early December.
"Their signing Brian McCann shouldn't have any bearing on me or cause me to become discouraged," Sanchez said. "What I've got to do is keep doing my job, do what they tell me and work hard, and they'll decide what to do with me. I can't go backward now, because the show goes on. You never know."
Playing at Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2013, Sanchez batted a combined .253 with 15 home runs and 71 RBIs in 117 games, posting an on-base percentage of .324 and a slugging percentage of .412. Sanchez said that it had been a thrill to help Trenton win its Eastern League championship.
"It's something that, in my four years with the Yankees, I'd never won a championship and I wanted to know how it felt to win a championship," Sanchez said. "It really feels good to be in the playoffs, win the final series and all that. I felt really good. I liked it. I want that to keep happening, a lot."
Sanchez has been touted as having tremendous offensive upside with power to spare, and he boasts a strong arm. His defense is improving, but it continues to need work.
"[Sanchez] made some progress last year. He's got more progress to make," said Newman, the Yanks' senior vice president of baseball operations. "He was a 16-year-old kid when we signed him. It's more the rules than the exception that they're going to have to adjust to the work-ethic standards we have in professional baseball. He's a good kid. He wants to be a good player."
Williams was a fourth-round Draft selection of the Yankees in 2010. The 22-year-old advanced to Double-A Trenton for 17 games in 2013, though he spent most of the year at Class A Tampa (100 games) while bouncing back from a season-ending shoulder injury in 2012.
Batting a combined .245 with 28 doubles, three triples, four home runs and 28 RBIs in 100 games, Williams posted a .304 on-base percentage and a .337 slugging percentage. A strong and speedy defender, he was also 15-for-24 in steal attempts.
"Mason's strengths are, if he stays balanced, he has power to all fields," Class A hitting coach Marcus Thames said during the season. "He can hit a home run here or there. He has the wheels to hit doubles and triples. He's got to stay balanced, and he'll be good."
Williams is expected to begin the 2014 season at Double-A, and the Yanks are looking for him to continue refining his raw tools and take the next steps toward the Bronx.
"I'm not really feeling pressure right now," Williams said. "I'm still taking it day by day. I'm working hard. If my name and number is called, I'm going to show up and play and do whatever I can to win."