TD Top Prospects: #1 Byron Buxton
When Greg Maddux's name came up on the Hall of Fame ballot last month, he did not gain unanimous induction despite being one of the most obvious Hall of Famers ever. When Joe Mauer was the clear-cut best player in the league in 2009, he was not the unanimous choice for MVP. Opinions are subjective, and in any vote or ranking, there are bound to be dissenters.
Except when it comes to naming the current best prospect in baseball. In that case, the answer is essentially indisputable.
Byron Buxton has earned that billing from MLB.com, ESPN.com and Baseball Prospectus. Baseball America will surely follow suit later this month.
Last week, Marc Normandin of SB Nation published a column that heaped effusive praise on Buxton from a wide variety of sources.
This passage provides a scout's perspective on the young outfielder's physical abilities:
An American League scout explained to us that five average or better tools for a single player is "rare" -- you have a very productive, very well-rounded major-league player if they are capable of average-or-better batting, throwing, running, fielding, and power. Buxton's tools aren't average or better, however: they're all at least plus, and that is "nearly unheard of," per our AL scout. To top it off, Buxton isn't even just plus across the board: his defense in center and his speed are both plus-plus -- the ratings don't go any higher than that.
No prospect is a sure thing. No prospect is a sure thing. No prospect is a sure thing. No prospect is a sure thing. No prospect is a sure thing. No prospect is a sure thing. No prospect is a sure thing.
Sorry, I just had to grind that back into my brain. Because when you take a hard look at Byron Buxton -- his statistics, his physical prowess and the immense respect he's gained from normally reserved prospect analysts everywhere in just one full season -- it can be easy to forget.
Last year Buxton was a 19-year-old getting his first taste of full-season ball. He absolutely dominated, hitting .334/.424/.520 between Low-A and High-A while totaling 19 doubles, 18 triples and 12 homers in 125 games.
At the plate, he was the full package. Disciplined, difficult to strike out and a nightmare after putting the ball in play. His bat speed is tremendous, his approach highly advanced.
He'll face another big challenge when he makes the jump to New Britain this spring, but there's little reason to expect anything other than success against Double-A pitching.
It's well known that, in high school, Buxton could crank it up to the mid-90s as a pitcher, and he mowed down the opposing lineup in a championship game his senior year.
We'll never know what kind of future he might have had on the mound, but his powerful arm is still a very nice asset in the outfield. With top-end strength and accuracy, Buxton can control the opponent's running game once he reaches the ball. Which tends to happen pretty quickly…
He's fast. If you haven't seen Buxton go from first to third before, it is something to see. His speed receives the highest rating on every scout's scale, because he is quite simply one of the fastest players in pro baseball.
This pays dividends in many ways. Last year, between Low-A and High-A, he stole a whopping 55 bases on 74 attempts. That's a 75 percent success rate from a teenager who was by and large trying to run (with extreme frequency) against older and more experienced batteries. For the sake of comparison, Ben Revere -- one of the quickest players I've ever seen -- maxed out at 45 steals in a minor-league season.
Buxton's blazing speed aids his offensive game in other ways, enabling him to beat out infield grounders and take extra bases routinely (his total of 18 triples demonstrates that well enough).
That speed also allows the young center fielder to cover vast real estate in the outfield. When a Cedar Rapids game was televised on Fox Sports North last June, viewers were treated to a spectacular play in which Buxton sprinted backward and dove with full extension to haul in a seemingly uncatchable drive near the warning track.
That's par for the course. In his article linked earlier, Normandin relays a quote from ESPN.com's MLB draft insider suggesting that Buxton could play "upper-echelon defense in center" if he went straight to the majors right now. He turned 20 two months ago.
Of Buxton's five commendable tools, this is the one that's probably least developed, which is saying something considering that he racked up 49 extra-base hits and 12 homers in 125 games last year. Most analysts believe that he'll only increase his drive distance as he ages and adds mass, giving him the potential to be a perennial 30-homer threat in the majors.
Even if he never reaches that level of long ball proclivity, Buxton's wheels will still get him around the bases plenty often.
The Bottom Line
Universally regarded as the best and most well rounded prospect in baseball, Buxton gives Twins fans reason to be absolutely giddy about the future. He carries all the prospect luster of a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, and maybe more.
Buxton still has plenty to prove. Again: No prospect is a sure thing. But this might be the closest we've ever seen, even as a 20-year-old who hasn't played above Single-A. He possesses such a deep, transcendent set of skills that even if certain aspects of his game don't fully translate to the majors, he should still end up being a highly valuable player on both ends of the field, with potential outcomes that range from occasional All-Star to annual MVP contender.