Ever since Twins scout Jack Powell watched Byron Buxton at a player showcase in Marietta, Ga., last year, the club had the multi-tool center fielder on their radar.
The Twins followed Buxton through other showcases and through his senior year at Appling County High School in Baxley, Ga., driving to the rural town to watch his games. The skills stood out. He was timed in the 3.8-second range from home to first, considered outstanding for a righthanded hitter. As a pitcher, he's thrown fastballs clocked at 95 miles per hour.
The Twins presently need top-flight starting pitching, but the Major League Baseball draft is not about the present. The Twins looked at the top pitchers available and decided that Buxton still had more potential than anyone on the board. So they selected him with the second overall pick in the draft Monday, their highest selection since they selected Joe Mauer with the first overall pick in 2001.
Buxton, 18, appeared subdued when interviewed on MLB Network after his name was announced. And he sounded reserved during a conference call minutes later.
"I just want to say this is one of the best feelings I've ever had," Buxton said. "I'm just pleased that the Minnesota Twins drafted me and I'm ready to go and have fun."
The Twins believe that, once he signs, Buxton will become the fastest player in their organization. Even faster than Ben Revere.
"You guys know about his athleticism just through the papers and what not," Twins scouting director Deron Johnson said. "He's a five-tool player. Tremendous ceiling. He's a really good kid. Hard worker. Two-sport athlete. Everybody talks about his athleticism. He's got a really good swing. We think he's going to hit. We think he'll hit anywhere from No. 1 in the order to No. 3. Tremendous, tremendous upside."
Buxton batted .513 for the Pirates this season with 17 doubles, 35 RBI and 38 stolen bases in 39 attempts. As a pitcher, he was 10-1 with 154 strikeouts in 81 innings.
He hit only three homers this season, which has led to some concerns about his ability to hit for power, although he hit 10 home runs as a junior and was pitched around more this season.
"I expect to one day become a power hitter," he said.
There also have been concerns about the level of talent he's faced in high school. Ultimately, his skills were too good to pass up. The Twins' stated goal for this draft is to hit a home run with the No. 2 pick, and they believe Buxton has the most upside. He's been compared to several multi-tool players, from Eric Davis to Matt Kemp to a blend of the Upton brothers. Buxton prefers Justin Upton, an All-Star with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Twins clearly had Buxton at the top of their draft board. Houston, with the first overall pick, selected Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa. Most draft analysts thought Stanford righthander Mark Appel would go first. When he was passed over, the Twins had a chance to select a polished pitcher who could reach the majors in a year or two. The Twins still took Buxton. Appel, whose adviser is agent Scott Boras, slipped to eighth, where he was selected by the Pirates. So signability might have been a factor. The Twins also were interested in University of San Francisco righthander Kyle Zimmer but dropped him from consideration right before the draft.
The slot value for the No. 2 pick in the draft is $6.2 million, so Buxton's contract offer from the Twins is expected to be in that neighborhood. He does have a full baseball scholarship offer from the University of Georgia if he chooses not to sign.
"We knew coming into the day it was going to be one or two," said Jeremy Smith, Buxton's high school coach. "To be honest with you, we really didn't care. It would be something to be taken first in the major league draft. But we think Minnesota is a better organization than Houston. First-class organization that knows how to win. That is what we were kind of hoping anyway."
The Twins, with two picks in the compensation round, addressed their needs by selecting two power pitchers. With the 32nd overall pick, they selected righthander Jose Berrios, whose fastball averages around 93-95 miles per hour and has touched 98. Berrios has worked hard to add 20 to 25 pounds to his frame in the past year, which has helped his velocity.
With the 42nd overall pick, they selected Georgia Tech righthanded reliever Luke Bard, brother of Red Sox righthander Daniel Bard. Luke Bard also throws 93-95 and mixes in a power breaking ball. He was limited to 11 games (three starts because the Yellowjackets were shorthanded) because of a torn lat muscle in his back. Deron Johnson said the Twins will try out Bard as a starter.
The draft continues at 11 a.m. Tuesday with rounds 2-15. The Twins have the third pick tomorrow (No. 63 overall) and the 12th pick (No. 72 overall) in the second round.