NEW YORK – Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano on Sunday did what they normally do during pregame activities. Buxton lined baseballs all over Citi Field’s sun-splashed outfield during batting practice. Sano drove them into the seats.
They also chatted it up for a few minutes before the annual All-Star Futures Game, where they were billed as the top prospect combination in the game. Buxton and Team USA went on to beat Sano and the World Team 4-2.
“We just played around,” said Buxton, who knows Sano from spring trainings in Fort Myers, Fla. “We like to have fun.”
In the stands sat Twins General Manager Terry Ryan and Vern Followell, the club’s pro scouting coordinator — looking like proud parents.
The game was full of top-end talent. Pitchers hitting 99 miles per hour on the radar gun, strangers turning double plays as if they had been teammates for years. But a lot of the buzz was focused on Buxton, who has shown more polish at the plate than scouts expected when he was the No. 2 overall pick in 2012, and Sano, blessed with some of the best young raw power in the minors.
Baseball America recently updated their prospect rankings. At the beginning of the season, Sano was ranked ninth in all of baseball while Buxton was right behind him at 10.
Then Sano batted .330 with 16 homers and 48 RBI in 56 games at Class A Fort Myers while playing solid defense. Buxton batted .341 with eight home runs, 55 RBI and 32 stolen bases in 68 games at Class A Cedar Rapids. Both earned call-ups. Sano is now at Class AA New Britain — where things have been tougher on him, as he is batting .205 with six homers and 18 RBI in 28 games with seven errors. Buxton is at Fort Myers, batting .300 through 15 games.
After both dominated early and earned in-season promotions, Buxton is now ranked by the publication as the top prospect in baseball, with Sano not far behind at No. 3. It’s the first time the publication had two players from the same organization in the top five since 2009 when the Braves’ Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward made it.
“We’re proud of them, no doubt,” Ryan said of Sano and Buxton while sitting behind home plate at the home of the Mets. “They went out and put up numbers in their respective leagues to start the year. Sano has slowed down a little bit. He’s starting to meet up with a little stiffer competition but all you have to do is watch him take batting practice and infield. He’s strong. He’s athletic. He’s got a powerful arm and he is putting up numbers.
“So they put him higher in the prospect rankings, and so is Buxton.”
And Ryan didn’t frown upon the possibility of each player earning another promotion before the season ends.
“They can,” Ryan said, “We have a lot of summer left. Yeah, they could. We certainly aren’t putting any shackles on those guys if they warrant it.”
Both players arrived in New York on Saturday. Sano has been to the Big Apple before, so he knows what population density is like. Buxton, however, was in New York for the first time. And the water tower in his hometown of Baxley, Ga., might be the tallest building in town.
Buxton, 19, checked out the sights. He saw the Empire State Building but didn’t enter (he’s afraid of heights), though he thought to himself, “I can’t believe I made it here in such a short period.”
Buxton’s rise is beginning to be compared to that of young star Mike Trout, who played at Cedar Rapids when it was an Angels affiliate. In 2010, Trout, then 18, batted .362 with six homers, 39 RBI and 45 stolen bases in 81 games before being promoted. Trout has played in 286 minor league games. Buxton could reach the majors next season with fewer minor league games under his belt.
Even Sano, when asked for his pick of the best prospect in baseball, said: “I think it’s Buxton. I see him in spring training and he is a good player.”
Buxton entered the game in the fifth inning and struck out twice. Sano was 0-for-2 in four plate appearances with a walk and hit by pitch. But they still showed their skills.
Buxton saw 11 pitches in his two at-bats. With the game on the line in the ninth, Sano laid off close pitches to push the count to 3-1 with a runner on first before driving a ball to the warning track in straightaway center. Buxton, of course, ran under it.
They hope it’s the only time they have to face each other. They both are thinking ahead to 2014, when they could be teammates — perhaps in the majors.
“I think so,” Sano said.
“Hopefully,” Buxton said. “It would be good to play with Sano.”