Tools to burn
Buxton is the embodiment of an often-invoked and rarely realized prototype: the five-tool prospect. The five tools in baseball vernacular are the ability to hit for average, hit for power, run, throw and field. Some scouts add a sixth tool by separating power into raw power and game power.
Barry Bonds wasn’t a five-tool prospect. He couldn’t throw. Kirby Puckett wasn’t a five-tool prospect. He didn’t develop power until he reached the big leagues. Buxton has attended only three major league games in his life, but he grew up an Atlanta Braves fan, admiring two five-tool players in Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones.
“I watched the Braves when I got a chance,” he said. “But I was always busy playing baseball.”
Buxton’s speed is his most obvious attribute. He’s not only the fastest player many baseball observers have seen, but he also runs with a unique style, as if springs were fixed to his cleats. He goes from first to third like he knows a shortcut.
“Most people, they go to a game, they follow the ball,” Kelly said. “With this young man, you really need to keep your eyes on him. If you do, you will be very entertained.”
That speed, combined with an arm so strong he once had a pitch clocked at 99 miles per hour in high school, promises to make Buxton a Gold Glove-caliber fielder with tremendous range. That speed also has allowed him to steal 26 bases in his first 52 games at Class A, even though his base- running is a work in progress.
“Wait until Paulie gets his hands on this young man,” Kelly said, referring to Molitor, a brilliant baserunner. “He has a few things to figure out, but he’s a very impressive young man. He listens.”
Entering Saturday, Buxton was hitting .333 with seven homers, 11 doubles, five triples and 39 RBI this season. He had a .435 on-base percentage and a .545 slugging percentage. He spent April displaying remarkable power for a player so young and lean, and spent May seeing fewer fastballs as opponents began pitching him away. He has adapted by hitting the ball sharply to the opposite field.
“He’s a very respectful, quiet, kid,” Molitor said. “When you instruct him, he gives you that quiet affirmation that he understands, and then he’s able to apply what he learns very quickly.”
Buxton has hinted he possesses that shared characteristic of great athletes, a sense of the moment. In two months at Class A, he has hit a walk-off grand slam and a key inside-the-park home run on a ball dropped by an outfielder.
“He is something to watch,” Kelly said. “And I think he’s a wonderful young man.”
Born in a small town
Buxton grew up in Baxley, a town of about 4,400 located in southeastern Georgia. His father, Felton, is a truck driver. His mother, Carrie, taught school and now runs a day care out of the family house. Byron grew up playing ball all day.
“Sometimes I played football, to toughen me up,” he said. “But I always loved baseball. We’d play against rival teams, and then we’d all get together at somebody’s house and play video games. It was really all sports.”
On draft night last summer, the Buxtons threw a party. More than 1,000 people showed up.
Felton said he grew up with a single mother and, because of family responsibilities, couldn’t pursue sports with the single-mindedness he sees in Byron.
“I wanted to make sure Byron had that chance,” Felton said.