There are few positions in sports, which hold both the reverence and importance of playing centerfield for the New York Yankees. The names that held the position were iconic in stature and maintained a deep place in the team’s illustrious history. 27 miles away in Staten Island is where Dom Thompson-Williams, the Yankees fifth round pick in the 2016 draft begins his professional career.
In his hometown of Sioux City, Iowa, Thompson-Williams had a number of athletic pursuits available to him during his senior season of high school. As a star wide receiver and defensive back, Thompson-Williams received offers to play football at the collegiate level, but after winning Gatorade Player of the Year honors in 2013, he chose to attend Iowa Western Community College with the hopes of becoming a professional baseball player.
“I could have gone to Iowa, Iowa State, or Nebraska for football, but I wanted to play both baseball and football. They did not want a two-sport athlete. People do not know this, but I signed to play both sports in junior college. After a week, I thought it through, and I did not want to hurt myself playing football, so I told the coach to raise my scholarship to play baseball full-time,” Thompson-Williams said.
Thompson-Williams quickly established himself during his two seasons at Iowa Western and led his team to consecutive appearances in the NJCAA World Series. During his freshman season, he batted .407/.465/.623 with 20 stolen bases and became the 19th round selection of the St. Louis Cardinals that spring. By the time he completed his tenure at Iowa Western, Thompson-Williams was a national commodity ranked in the top 100 among collegiate players.
“A big thing that they preached at Iowa Western was to teach you how to become a baseball player on the field and they teach you to become a man off the field,” Thompson-Williams explains. “Junior college wasn’t the fastest route, but made me the man who I am today and I would not take back those days and the decision I made to attend school there.”
After two productive junior college seasons, the South Carolina Gamecocks recruited Thompson-Williams last spring and became teammates and fast friends with Gene Cone and Taylor Widener, who later began their pro careers with Thompson-Williams in the New York-Penn League.
“My dream out of high school was to play in the SEC, period. That was my main dream. At Iowa Western, we ended up winning the national championship, and that opened a lot of doors for me,” Thompson-Williams said. “Gene Cone was our leadoff hitter, and he had a hell of a year at South Carolina and those types of players push you to become better.”
“Dom was supposed to make a major impact coming into South Carolina,” Cone said. “He played center and left predominantly for us and was a big factor in the success we had last spring. Everybody liked him as a teammate, and we hung out together both on and off the field.”
With the help of head coach Chad Holbrook, Thompson-Williams hit .315 with eight home runs and 41 RBI in 240 at-bats. Earlier in the spring, South Carolina alum and current Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. visited the campus and made an impression on the student athletes.
“South Carolina had the academics and the best resources in the country. They called me out of the blue and gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was heaven all over. Jackie is the man. He sat down with me, and we talked about baseball and the off the field matters. He was so down to earth that you would never know he’s a big leaguer. It’s pretty awesome to know somebody of that caliber.”
Proving he could play successfully at any level as an amateur, Thompson-Williams felt ready to accept the challenges of professional baseball and quickly signed a contract with the Yankees just before the start of the New York-Penn League season. Assigned to the Staten Island Yankees as a fifth-round pick, Thompson-Williams batted in the leadoff spot for the first time and faced the struggles that typify the transition from college baseball.
“I guess the biggest transition for me was switching from aluminum to the wood bats. I am still trying to figure that out, and the key is making adjustments. I came out of the gates striking out a lot and not doing too well. I just had to tell myself that baseball is a game and that everybody has ups and downs, even if they are in the big leagues. Eventually, things turn around,” Thompson-Williams said.
By midseason, Thompson-Williams rediscovered his form, and his difficulties began subsiding. Dating back to a two-hit performance against the Lowell Spinners on August 8, Thompson-Williams was hitting .333 in 33 at-bats and boosted his on-base percentage to a season-best .366 by month’s end with Staten Island in contention for a postseason berth.
“I think he is started to get accustomed to using the wooden bats by now,” Staten Island manager Dave Bialas said. “He was down for about 11 to 12 days with a bruised hand and now is beginning to swing the bat well for us. He adds a lot to our club in the outfield and plays a good centerfield. Also, he can steal bags out of the leadoff spot and contributes well to this club.”