Bang For Your Buxton
Comparisons to all-time greats like Bo Jackson and Willie Mays? Check.
Classic baseball name? Check.
Yep, Byron Buxton seems to have everything you'd hope for in a top pick. Now he just needs to turn his elite tools into production on the professional stage – something the last high-profile prep outfielder drafted by the Twins has failed to do thus far.
The comparisons to Aaron Hicks were inevitable from the moment Buxton's name was mentioned as a potential target at No. 2. Both were center fielders with off-the-charts athleticism. Both did some pitching for their high school teams, with a fastball clocking in the high 90s. And both had the kind of upside with the bat that makes scouts drool.
Hicks impressed the folks at Baseball America so much with his tools and potential that after the 2009 season they ranked him as the 19th-best prospect in all of baseball, despite the fact that his numbers in Beloit that year were thoroughly mediocre (.735 OPS, 4 HR, 10 SB in 67 G).
Unfortunately, three years later the 2008 first-rounder hasn't taken the kind of steps those analysts believed he would. He dropped to No. 45 on BA's list after a good-not-great encore season in the Midwest League in 2010, and fell off the Top 100 completely after hitting .242 with five homers in Ft. Myers last season.
Currently, the 22-year-old Hicks is hitting .247 in New Britain and his ability to take walks – heretofore his primary asset – continues to deteriorate. The switch-hitting outfielder certainly shouldn't be labeled a bust, but at this point his upside looks more like solid regular than star.
Hicks and Buxton are different people and one man's journey has no bearing on another. Still, the slow and frustrating path that Hicks has followed serves as a cautionary tale when it comes to the organization's latest blockbuster addition.
The questions that surrounded Hicks when the Twins selected him 14th overall in '08 were the same ones that generally surround any teenager drafted out of high school, and they are the same ones now attached to Buxton: How will those immense physical attributes play out when he goes from facing crummy high school hurlers to imposing professionals?
Fortunately, Buxton's tools are a notch above those of Hicks, not to mention every other position player that was involved in this year's draft (with the possible exception of No. 1 pick Carlos Correa). As an 18-year-old with a long way to go before reaching the majors, Buxton is a gamble, especially considering that the Twins passed on a number of highly rated pitchers to take him, but with his otherworldly speed, his sweet right-handed swing and his cannon arm he seems exceedingly well equipped for the challenge ahead.
And coupled with Miguel Sano, he injects more excitement into the Twins' farm system than we've seen in a very long time.