TAMPA, Fla. -- There's been a fair amount of criticism placed upon the New York Yankees' farm system this offseason. The annual prospect rankings haven't been particularly kind, and even managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner expressed disappointment in the Yankees' Pipeline.
But outfielders Mason Williams and Tyler Austin, two of the Yanks' top prospects, made it clear Thursday they believe in themselves and their teammates, and they hope to one day provide the kind of young, homegrown stars the Bombers have lacked in recent years.
"We definitely have a lot of young talent. They're all doing things right. I definitely feel like a lot of these guys are going to have a good opportunity to play in the Major Leagues one day, [with] the Yankees or whoever it is," said the 22-year-old Williams, MLB.com's No. 75 overall prospect for 2014. "[There is] definitely a lot of young talent, everyone's doing the little things right, and I'm excited to watch everyone grow.
"I'm a Yankee right now. That's all I'm thinking about, getting to the Bronx."
Some of that criticism stemmed from the pair's struggles in 2013. Both optimistically called last season a learning experience.
Austin, also 22, played through a bone contusion and strained ligaments in his wrist, batting just .257 with a .717 OPS for Double-A Trenton. He was MLB.com's No. 75 overall prospect heading into the 2013 season, but he fell out of the Top 100 this year.
"It was kind of a thing that was going to take a while to heal. I probably didn't make the cause any easier by playing through it for a while," Austin said. "I'd rather play than not play, to be honest. I can't get to the big leagues on the DL. But we're finally healed up and ready to go."
Austin said he was humbled by seeing all he had left to learn after he "got my butt kicked, pretty much, to say the least" by more talented opposing pitchers in Double-A. He's a tough kid, having overcome testicular cancer at age 17, and he hopes that positive outlook will serve him well this year.
"It's been a process, but I'm finally starting to learn and understand the things that I need to do in that aspect of the game to be a better player and a better person on and off the field," Austin said.
Williams, meanwhile, was arrested in April for driving under the influence. Spending most of the year with Class A Advanced Tampa before a late-season promotion to Trenton, he hit .245 with just a .641 OPS.
"I've had some ups and downs, but I've definitely learned a lot every day," Williams said. "It's just a process. It's just the game. You play so many games. Nobody's perfect. I'm not going to be perfect every day. Nothing happened. I'm still playing hard."
There were bright spots, of course. Williams helped Trenton win a championship, his second in the organization, and he spoke excitedly Thursday about the idea of adding to his ring collection.
"I'm actually getting kind of greedy with the rings, you know? I want to keep getting them," Williams said, smiling. "I want to get as many as I can and hopefully fill up all my fingers."
Both players will head from their pre-camp workouts to big league Spring Training at George M. Steinbrenner Field, looking to take advantage of the opportunity and soak up as much knowledge as they can from the Yankees' veterans.
Someday, they hope to be in a position to answer questions and guide the next wave of young prospects. Listening to them speak, it's clear they believe that day will come sooner rather than later.
"We know the ability that we have. We all know that we can play. If we couldn't play, we wouldn't be here," Austin said. "We have a great staff in there that's trying everything in their power to help us get to the big leagues. We don't think about [the criticism] at all. We just need to go out and play and relax and have fun."