When the son was 4, the father, playing softball with friends, sent him to right field. “A fly ball came my way,” the son says now, “and hit me in the head.”
When the son was 5, the father sent him back to the outfield. “I learned to put my glove up,” the son says. “Next time a ball came my way, I caught it.”
For little Byron Buxton of Baxley, Ga., day care was a day game. He hasn’t stopped looking precocious on the diamond since he learned to close a glove around a ball.
Chosen with the second pick in the 2012 draft by the Twins out of Appling County High School, Buxton, 19, is dominating the Midwest League for Class A Cedar Rapids, becoming the rare Twins prospect who prompts the organization’s most cautious voices to one-up each other with superlatives.
“I could see him becoming a 30-30 guy,” said his manager, Jake Mauer, of the magical 30-home run, 30-steal major league season. “He has all of the tools to do it, and he’s a very smart man.”
“He’s in a class by himself, athletically,” said Perry Castellano, the Twins strength and conditioning coach. “If you want to talk about power and explosiveness, you’d have to look at a Rickey Henderson in terms of a comparison.”
“The comparable player, in my eyes, at this point, would be Andrew McCutchen,” said Twins assistant GM Rob Antony, referring to the Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder who finished third in National League MVP voting last year.
“Once he figures a few things out, I’d have to put him, in terms of speed, right up there with Willie Wilson and Devon White,” said former Twins manager Tom Kelly, mentioning two famous speedsters of the 1980s. “My goodness gracious, I know we’re putting the cart before the horse here, but oh, boy, is he going to be entertaining.”
“Honestly, I think he has a chance to be better than those two, White and Wilson,” said Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who works with Twins minor leaguers. “It’s fun for our people to go down and see players like Byron and say he’s not only going to be a good everyday player, but he’s going to be one of the best players in the game.”
“He has reminded me of the way Mike Trout played here,” said Cedar Rapids coach Tommy Watkins, who saw the Angels phenom play in the Midwest League before putting together one of the best rookie seasons in major league history. “They have different styles, but they’ve dominated the league in the same way.”
“You know who he reminds me of, in terms of approach?” Jake Mauer said. “My brother Joe. They’re quiet, but they know they’re good.”
Asked whether comparisons to Henderson, White, Wilson, McCutchen and Trout are legitimate, Twins Vice President of Player Personnel Mike Radcliff said: “Any and all of the above. I wouldn’t limit Byron to any mold. He could be a leadoff hitter, could be a No. 3 hitter, could hit a lot of homers, could steal a lot of bases. I wouldn’t limit what he’s capable of doing when he arrives in the major leagues.”
Until they drafted Buxton and signed power-hitting third baseman Miguel Sano, who is playing at Class A Fort Myers, the Twins hadn’t raved about prospects with such enthusiasm since they used the first pick in the 2001 draft on a high school catcher named Mauer.
Before Mauer, they hadn’t raved about a prospect like this, in terms of superstar potential and personality, since the franchise moved to Minnesota.
“We legitimately thought Byron was the best player in the draft last year,” Antony said. “That’s why you pass on pitching, some people who are pretty darn good and could have helped us soon: Because we didn’t want to take somebody who might turn out to be a third starter, and then you’re watching this guy play in All-Star Games every year for somebody else.”