The list of those who have patrolled there is pretty impressive. Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle are in the Hall of Fame. Bernie Williams won four World Series titles. Being the center fielder for the New York Yankees is thus considered a tremendous honor.
With great power, of course, comes great responsibility. Not all can live up to those kinds of expectations, but 22-year-old Mason Williams hopes that one day he can add his name to that list.
"I think about it every day, the opportunity I might have, to play center field in the Bronx," Williams said. "That's the biggest thing."
Williams knows he has a ways to go before he's ready for such a task. The No. 2 Yankees prospect and No. 36 overall has just 17 games above Class A ball in terms of professional experience. That brief time with Double-A Trenton, though, showed Williams what he'll need to do in order to keep moving up the ladder. He took those lessons with him to the Arizona Fall League, where he's facing a similar -- if not better -- level of competition.
"I'd definitely say patience, maturity," Williams said. "Everyone here can play, everyone knows that. I just want to have fun. I'm really just here to enjoy the moment, enjoy where I am and take it all in. I'm definitely excited. I'm trying to embrace this whole moment."
Since being taken in the fourth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft and being given seven figures to sign, Williams has been saddled with the label of having tremendous raw tools. He's shown glimpses of putting all of it together -- the speed, the hitting ability, even the nascent power -- but he's yet to find a level of consistency. That's not uncommon for a young player, and Williams has definitely shown frustration during his time in the Yankees' system when things don't go his way.
The good news is Williams seems to have a better understanding of that now than when he first began his pro career. His time in the Fall League, in such a low-key, learning environment, might be perfect for him to slow things down and work on the things he needs to refine in order to keep heading in the right direction.
"I definitely feel it's sometimes hard to be patient, because sometimes I come out here and try to succeed and try to do well and not really let the game come to me," Williams said. "I'm definitely here having fun, and I'm going to be patient and see what happens."
Williams watched his parent club make a valiant run, despite injuries and age, at the postseason. He's well aware that New York is looking down on the farm for help as that Major League roster gets older. But he's trying not to look ahead too much, focusing on what he can do presently to improve, so when the time comes for him to step on that hallowed ground in center field, he'll be ready.
"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."
Yankees hitters in the AFL
Peter O'Brien, who will join Williams at the AFL's Fall Stars Game on Saturday, is coming off of a very strong first full season with the bat. The University of Miami product led the organization in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage while playing in the South Atlantic and Florida State Leagues. A catcher in college, O'Brien was starting to play a lot more third base in 2013. He's splitting time between the hot corner and behind the plate in the AFL. While he's gone just 6-for-36 so far, half of his hits have been for home runs, and he did win the Bowman Hitting Challenge.
Yankees pitchers in the AFL
The Yankees took Brett Gerritse out of high school back in 2009 and gave him an above-slot deal to sign. He's been a little slow to develop, spending time as a swingman with Class A Charleston (South Atlantic League) the past two seasons. After working in relief for most of 2013, the right-hander threw well as a starter over the season's final month. He's in Arizona once again working out of the 'pen, where he's allowed five runs on six hits and five walks while striking out nine over 7 1/3 innings.
As a 43rd-round pick and a college-senior signing in the 2010 Draft, it's safe to say that lefty reliever Fred Lewis has already exceeded expectations by pitching in Double-A (and one outing in Triple-A) in 2013. Coming off a year that saw him combine for a 2.61 ERA and 9.2 K/9 ratio, Lewis has continued to throw relatively well in Arizona. The southpaw did not allow a run in his first six relief appearances, allowing five hits and issuing five walks while striking out seven.
Sometimes help can come from unusual places. Vidal Nuno is a smaller lefty originally drafted by the Cleveland Indians. He was released in the spring of 2011, then signed with an independent league team. The Yankees signed him later that year, and Nuno ended up helping out at the big league level in 2013. He was limited, however, to 45 innings all year because of a groin injury. He's making up for lost innings in the AFL and has given up six earned runs on 14 hits over his first three starts, spanning 10 2/3 innings.
The Yankees sent one more lefty to Arizona, James Pazos. Taken from the University of San Diego in 2012, Pazos has begun his pro career somewhat slowly, not hitting full-season ball until this past June. He had some success there, and was particularly stingy against left-handed hitters (.192 batting average against). His trip to the AFL should speed up his climb, and the southpaw reliever had allowed just one earned run (four total) on six hits over his first 5 2/3 innings for Scottsdale.