Following back-to-back division titles, expectations were high for the 2011 Minnesota Twins. Unfortunately, things couldn't have gone much worse for that club, as they were one of the most disappointing teams in franchise history. The team lost 99 games and "earned" the second overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft.
With the draft approaching, multiple names had been tied to the Twins, but Bryon Buxton was a player that was tough to ignore. Baseball America ranked him as the top prospect in the draft even though there were questions about the level of competition he faced throughout high school. Minnesota gave Buxton a $6 million signing bonus, which was $1.2 million higher than any other player in the draft.
Plenty of hype followed Buxton in his pro debut. He struggled out of the gate with the GCL Twins as he went 19-for-88 (.216 BA), but he got on base over 32% of the time. He also showed more power than expected, with 11 of his 19 hits being for extra bases. He was promoted to Elizabethton and hit .286/.368/.429 (.796) with eight extra-base hits in 21 games. It clearly looked like some of the questions surrounding him in the draft were starting to be answered.
Buxton emphatically answered any remaining questions during the 2013 minor league season. As a 19-year-old, he split time between Low- and High-A, destroying the ball at both levels. He finished the year hitting .334/.424/.520 (.944) with 49 extra-base hits in 125 games. Oh yeah, he stole 55 bases too. Buxton had established himself as the game's best prospect, and the organization wanted to see how he stacked up against some of baseball's other top prospects.
Following the season, Buxton made his first trip to the Arizona Fall League. In 12 games, he went 11-for-52 (.212) with three home runs and a double. However, he injured his non-throwing shoulder and missed the rest of the AFL season. Even with the abrupt end to his AFL campaign, the accolades started to roll in.
Baseball America named Buxton their 2013 Minor League Player of the Year. He entered the 2014 season as the consensus top prospect by all three national rankings. Baseball America said his "combination of tools and production made him the talk of the minor leagues" in their 2014 Prospect Handbook.
After a standout 2013 campaign, things got off to a rough start in 2014. Buxton suffered a wrist injury in spring training and started the season on the injured list. He played 30 games with Fort Myers to ease himself back into action. However, Buxton suffered a concussion in his first game at Double-A, and his season was done. He ended the year with a .702 OPS and a return ticket to the AFL. However, he was limited to 13 games after dislocating a finger while diving for a ball. It was time for an offseason to get healthy. Baseball America being the only national ranking to drop him out of the top spot entering the 2015 season.
The 2015 season was Buxton's first shot to prove himself in the upper levels of the minors. In 59 games at Double-A, he hit .283/.351/.489 (.840) with 25 extra-base hits and 20 steals. His bat looked like it was ready for baseball's highest level, and the Twins called him up for his big-league debut in June. At the time, Minnesota was light on outfielders. Aaron Hicks was suffering from a right elbow injury and Torii Hunter was serving a two-game suspension. Buxton went 7-for-37 (.189) with two extra-base hits in 11 games before suffering a sprained left thumb that cost him two months of the season. When he was healthy, the Twins sent him to Rochester to find his swing.
At Triple-A, he was nearly six years younger than the average age of the competition. He batted .400/.441/.545 (.986) with five extra-base hits in 13 games. On August 20, Minnesota recalled him, and he finished the season with a .606 OPS over his final 28 games. He entered the next season as baseball's number two overall prospect and Minnesota's Opening Day center fielder.
It's hard to know when Minnesota will have another prospect of the same caliber as Buxton. He, along with Joe Mauer, are the only players in franchise history to be named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year. Twins fans saw Minnesota keep Mauer on a long-term deal, and now Buxton has followed in Mauer's footsteps.
What do you remember most about Buxton as a prospect? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email