For today's prospect comparison we're digging a little deeper, looking at two young players who are not nearly as close to the big leagues. While these guys are far away, they could each develop into impact talent and be near the top of prospect lists in a few years. I was asked in the comments last week to look at some deeper league prospects, so this is my way of transitioning into deeper prospect comparisons. Both of these players should be on top 100 prospect lists, but they will be a bit further down. If there is anyone in particular that interests you or you have questions about, please let me know in the comments, or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or twitter (@cdgoldstein) and I'll add them to the list. Ok, enough of me, let's get to the prospects:
Mason Williams - CF - Yankees - The former 2010 4th round pick required an above-slot $1.45 million bonus from New York to sway him from attending South Carolina, but it's a deal that has worked out well for both parties so far. Williams was sent to the short season New York-Penn league to begin his career in earnest and flourished there. Standing at 6 ft./150 lbs. Williams isn't an intimidating figure by any means, but don't let his size fool you as it belies the Yankee system's best all-around tools. Williams has speed to burn, scoring as an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale and leading the NY-P league in steals with 28, though he remains unpolished as a base and route-runner. Williams isn't a power prospect and likely won't develop any more than average power, but that doesn't mean he will fall into the slap-hitter stereotype. He has shown the ability to hit the ball to all fields, and in doing so, drive the ball well. While Williams approach at the plate could use some refinement, often swinging early in the count and at "pitcher's pitches", he showed few ill effects of his impatience, putting up a stellar .349/.395/.468 slash line. Williams also showed remarkable consistency for someone making what was essentially his first foray into pro ball, never hitting below .286 in any month and peaking at .379 in August. Williams may seem slight by his measurables, but he has wiry strength and tremendous physicality, which bodes well for developing his tools in the future. On defense Williams shows good range paired with plus instincts in center field. Though he does take poor routes to balls at times, that is something that should improve over time. Given how productive Williams was despite the raw state of his game, there is every reason to be excited here. He has a shot to be the Yankees first home-grown center fielder since they refused to acknowledge that Brett Gardner is a better centerfielder than Curtis Granderson, and if it all clicks he should have four above-average tools (lacking power) and profiles as a top of the order hitter when he arrives in 2015.
Rymer Liriano - RF - Padres - Liriano received a demotion early on in the 2011 season from Hi-A Lake Elsinore to Lo-A Fort Wayne, making it two years in a row that he received an in-season demotion. One might take this as a big negative when grading Liriano, and while it's far from ideal, I find it far more instructive to look at his response to the demotion. Still age appropriate (20 years old) following the demotion, and he flourished upon his return to Fort Wayne tearing up the league with a .319/.383/.499 slash line. He put all his tools on display, smashing 50 extra-base hits and swiping 65 bases on the season. Liriano is a veritable tool shed, generating plus bat speed to drive the ball to the middle of the field while also showing impressive explosiveness getting down the line in 4.2 seconds as a right-handed batter. Liriano showed his current strength while piling up those extra-base hits, but should also fill out as he ages, enough to project 25 home run power in the majors. The same process that gives him added strength will also sap his speed a bit, though he is an instinctual base-stealer who should retain above-average speed once he matures physically. The only negative I really found on Liriano is that his strikeout rate remained high at 18.3%, though it is certainly manageable and was the lowest of his career. He does pair that with a solid 9.1% walk rate, and he made good progress with pitch recognition after being fed a steady diet of breaking balls in 2011. I also appreciate Liriano's mental toughness, enduring two straight demotions and responding with improved play instead of letting his confidence waiver and going into a nosedive. Liriano is consistently being ranked the 3rd best prospect (after Alonso and Grandal) in the Padres revamped system but with his speed/power combination he has a fantasy upside that neither of those guys can match. With the heavy influx of talent from a stellar 2011 draft class, Liriano could be an under the radar late first/early second round pick up in minor league drafts. Current and prospective owners shouldn't expect to have him contribute before late 2014 at his current pace.
I came into this comparison expecting to favor Mason Williams as I have read some very exciting scouting reports on him and people see him as a potential rising star if he puts it all together. I thought I would be able to make the statement that if Williams could get all his tools to click, he could make a Jake Marisnick-like rise up prospect boards going into the 2013 offseason. I walk away from this comparison thinking that Liriano is a serious sleeper who has the ability to be a top 25 prospect next season and possibly more. Though he's gaining respect for his tremendous 2011 season (ranked 60th in Jonathan Mayo's top 100 prospects), I think we still may be under-rating Liriano and that means there is the opportunity to get him at a discount heading into this season. What I like about Liriano most is that his variety of tools (average/speed/power) leaves him more to fall back on than Williams. If Liriano's power doesn't play in PETCO Park, he still has his up-the-middle hitting approach and speed to support him as a fantasy asset. If Williams doesn't become the hitter the scouting community expect, he becomes a one dimensional fantasy player. Obviously there is room to argue either way with both these players a ways off from the major leagues and I look forward to hearing from you guys in the comments, but as it stands today, I find Liriano's combination of ceiling and likelihood to reach it more enticing than Williams'.