Age: 19 (DOB: 12/18/93)
Rookie: .248/.344/.429, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 33 R, 11/14 SB
Yesterday, when writing about Minnesota Twins #3 prospect Aaron Hicks, Nick wrote “When it comes to physical tools, Aaron Hicks is tough to top.” If there is anyone in the Twins organization that could, it will be fellow outfielder Byron Buxton.
At 6-2 and 180 pounds, Buxton is a tremendous five-tool athlete. Although he was a prospect on a national stage throughout his high school career, he made a name for himself when he put on a batting practice display at the 2011 Under Armour All-America game. As a senior, he hit .545/.649/.852 with 35 stolen bases in 36 attempts. While Hicks was taken with the 14th overall pick in 2008, Buxton was the second overall pick in the 2012 draft. Deemed the best player available in the draft, he signed fairly quickly to a $6 million signing bonus ($200K under slot), the highest signing bonus of the year.
When the Twins drafted him with the second pick, he was sent to Ft. Myers to prepare to start his professional career. A couple of weeks later, he debuted with the GCL Twins. He missed time with a hamstring strain, but in 27 games, he hit .216/.324/.466 (.789). He hit four doubles, three triples and four home runs. On August 6th, he and fellow 2012 1st round pick and Twins Daily #8 prospect JO Berrios were promoted to Elizabethton. With the E-Twins, he hit .286/.368/.429 with six doubles, a triple and a home run. He also stole seven bases in seven attempts and patrolled centerfield for the Appalachian League champions. Following the season, Baseball America named him the top prospect in both the Gulf Coast League and the Appalachian League.
Knowing how important the #2 overall pick was to the future of the organization, VP of Player Personnel, Mike Radcliff, was heavily involved in the scouting and the draft. Regarding Buxton, Radcliff said, “He has high-end physical tools, and the ceiling to impact the game in all phases.
Regarding Buxton’s first go-‘round in professional baseball, Radcliff called it “successful” and added, “For a young prospect, he handled the rigors of pro baseball and established himself in the development process.”
Twins Director of Minor League Operations Brad Steil added, “Byron showed his impressive athletic ability and tools. He got off to a slow start in the GCL, but he handled himself well and made adjustments to pro ball, and that’s really what the first year is all about.”
Byron Buxton has all of the tools. He can hit, and despite his slender frame, he has a ton of power potential. He can run. In fact, according to Jeremy Nygaard’s profile in the Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2013, “his speed is eye-popping too as one scout measured him at 3.89 seconds from home to first base. That time matched Bo Jackson for the fastest out of the batter’s box for a right-handed hitter.” He once tagged up and scored from second base on a routine fly ball to right field.His speed also can be demonstrated in centerfield where he gets to balls that most wouldn’t. He has a very strong arm which is illustrated by a 98-mph fastball that he used to strikeout 18 batters in seven innings in the Georgia AA state championship game in 2012. Unlike Hicks, who was clocked with a 97-mph fastball in high school and was scouted by most pro teams as a pitching prospect, Buxton has been viewed solely as an outfielder.
What are his best tools?
Steil says, “His speed and arm strength are easy to see. You can also see that he’s a professional kid and a good worker.”
According to Radcliff, “His bat’s speed is unique. He is a top-of-the-scale runner. His arm and defensive skills are special.”
Along with his great tools, scouts were just as impressed with his competitiveness, his makeup and his great family.
The toughest part about toolsy high school draft picks is that it often takes time and patience for those tools to turn into skills. A FanGraphs article warned Twins fans from thinking that Buxton will move up terribly quickly. It used fellow-toolsy outfield pick Aaron Hicks as the comparison.
Most scouts tend to believe that the “hit” tool is the one that Buxton will struggle with most. In 189 rookie-league plate appearances, Buxton struckout 41 times. Over 600 plate appearances, that would equate to 130 strikeouts.
As Steil noted, “As with most high school drafts, learning how to take professional at bats and make adjustments will be the biggest challenge, but he did show a pretty good feel for the strike zone for and 18-year-old."
Radcliff agreed, “As is the case with any young prospect, the development of his hit approach will dictate his advancement and ultimate performance ceiling.”
It’s impossible to know how an 18-year-old with a ton of talent, athleticism and tools will turn out as a big leaguer. There is the fact that baseball is not exactly an easy game.
Radcliff added, “Buck’s challenge for 2013 is to continue to develop his skills and realize that importance of maintaining his body and respect the game.”
The Bottom Line
Byron Buxton fits the long line of high Twins draft picks who are immensely talented and athletic. As has been the case with most of them, patience will be a virtue for the player, the organization and for the Twins’ fans. There is a chance that he will spend the 2013 season in the Twins’ new Midwest League affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, though that is not a given.
According to Steil, “I think Cedar Rapids is realistic to start the season. We’ll see how spring training goes and we’ll do what we think is best for Byron’s development.
As the FanGraphs article concluded, “For all of the questions surrounding the development of Aaron Hicks, it now appears the Twins were correct to move him slowly. Buxton may need to be treated with the same kid gloves. This leaves Minnesota as the perfect landing spot for the teenage phenom.”
When asked how good Buxton can be, most believe that his floor is BJ Upton. Yes, the same BJ Upton who just signed a 5 year, $75.25 million free agent contract with the Atlanta Braves. When asked about his ceiling, many say that he has the ability to be as good as guys like Justin Upton ad Matt Kemp while the name of Andrew McCutchen continues to pop up.
Radcliff remarked, “At this stage of his development, there are no limits. Our organizational hallmarks of patience and attention to detail will all him to dictate his own advancement.”
Steil added, “He certainly has the tools to be a very good defensive centerfielder and an impact type of player in the Major Leagues. Keep in mind that he’s only entering his first full professional season, so the focus will be on skill development and helping him learn the game.”
The Twins wanted to be sure about that #2 pick. In fact, the Twins sent 11 scouts to see Buxton play at Appling County High School, a small town with incredible humidity in outstate Georgia. However, fans of the high school baseball team showed up to watch Buxton and his teammates.
In conclusion, Mr. Radcliff pointed out, “Our scouts had the conviction in their projections to believe he can be a franchise player."
[TD’s Top Ten Prospects: #10: Max Kepler]
[TD’s Top Ten Prospects: #9: Trevor May]
[TD's Top Ten Prospects: #8: J. O. Berrios]
[TD's Top Ten Prospects: #7 Eddie Rosario]
[TD's Top Ten Prospects: #6 Kyle Gibson]
[TD's Top Ten Prospects: #5 Alex Meyer]
[TD's Top Ten Prospects: #4 Oswaldo Arcia]
[TD’s Top Ten Prospects: #3 Aaron Hicks]
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