RiverDogs’ Williams will ‘be fun to watch’

Mason Williams and the RiverDogs open the season today at 7 p.m. at Riley Park against the Rome Braves.

Mason Williams never stepped into a classroom at the University of South Carolina. He never spent the night in a dorm room or got a hit for the Gamecocks’ baseball team.

But sitting in his hotel room last June and watching as the Gamecocks mobbed reliever Matt Price on the mound after their 5-2 victory over Florida to capture their second straight College World Series crown, Williams couldn’t help but feel a little bit of pride.

Had things gone differently, it might have been Williams in the middle of that human dog pile last year at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.

Williams signed to play baseball at South Carolina in 2010 and would have been a freshman outfielder on the Gamecocks second World Series team. But the New York Yankees drafted Williams in the fourth round of the 2010 Major League Draft and gave him 1.45 million reasons to play professional baseball. “I was happy for South Carolina, I mean when I visited there I fell in love with the place,” Williams said. “I definitely wanted South Carolina to win. That could have been me. I could have won a ring. That would have been amazing to go to Omaha and be a part of that.

“But in the end I know I made the right decision. I’m where I belong.”

Few inside the Yankees organization would argue with the RiverDogs center fielder.

The RiverDogs have the Yankees’ last two first-round picks on their roster — third baseman Dante Bichette, Jr., and shortstop Cito Culver — but the best prospect on the team this summer might be Williams.

A year ago, Williams had little trouble dominating the New York-Penn League, a league made up of mostly college players. He hit .349, led the team with 42 runs scored, had a .395 on-base percentage and .468 slugging percentage to go along with 28 stolen bases. He was named the league’s player of the year and helped lead the Staten Island Yankees to a league title.

“It was a great summer,” Williams said. “On a personal level, I thought I had a pretty good season and more importantly from a team standpoint we won a championship, which was amazing.”

Williams, 20, is rated as the Yankees’ No. 4 minor league prospect by MLB.com. ESPN’s Keith Law, a former baseball executive, has Williams as the No. 34 overall prospect in baseball. Baseball America named Williams the “fastest base-runner,” “best athlete” and the “best defensive outfielder” in the organization.

“He deserves what buzz he’s gotten because he went out and dominated a league of mostly college players when he was 19-20,” Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ director of amateur scouting, told the New York Daily News. “Now it’s a case of continuing to earn it. It’s baseball — he’s going to have to prove it at every level.”

His potential is unlimited, which has been a blessing and a curse for the Yankees. Williams has drawn the attention of teams around the league and several reportedly made trade offers.

“His name is on the tip of all of their tongues,” Mark Newman, the Yankees’ senior vice president of baseball operations, told the Daily News.

RiverDogs hitting coach Greg Colbrunn said Williams might be the best athlete he’s seen in the Yankees’ farm system.

His skill set is off the charts,” Colbrunn said. “We had him last year in spring training and he made plays out there that we haven’t had anyone make in the five years I’ve been with the Yankees.

“All he needs is some experience. He’s going to be fun to watch.”