Baseball America

2013 Minor League Player Of The Year: Byron Buxton

See also: Byron Buxton participated in a Google+ Hangout to talk about his season and winning the Minor League Player of the Year award.

See also: John Manuel fielded questions in a Player of the Year chat.

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton (Photo by Mike Janes)

More than 250 players in the full-season minors out-homered Byron Buxton this season. Yet that didn’t prevent the 19-year-old center fielder from ranking as the No. 1 prospect in baseball at midseason or from winning the Midwest League MVP award or from—spoiler alert—ranking as the top prospect in both Class A leagues in which he played this season.

The Twins even ticketed their uber-prospect, in the words of one scout, “The best minor leaguer I’ve ever seen,” for the Arizona Fall League in October.

Now, Buxton can add one more feather to his cap: Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year, a distinction he sewed up with an all-around game seldom seen from a teenager in his first full season.

In stops at low Class A Cedar Rapids and—following a late-June promotion—high Class A Fort Myers, Buxton hit a cumulative .334/.424/.520 with 49 extra-base hits, 55 stolen bases and a sparkling 76-to-105 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 125 games. He led the minors with 18 triples, finished second with 109 runs scored—one behind Marcus Semien of the White Sox—and 12th in stolen bases.

More impressively, Buxton ranked sixth in the minor league batting race, 10th in hits (163) and seventh in on-base percentage, despite being a full year younger than any other member of those top-10 lists.

Adding another layer to his accomplishments is the fact that just 15 months ago, scouts voiced concern about Buxton’s ability to adjust to quality pitching as he left the high school ranks for pro ball. The rapidity at which Buxton, the second overall pick in the 2012 draft from Appling County High in Baxley, Ga., has put those concerns to rest truly belies his youth.

“You think, ‘How can he get better?’ Well he’s going to get better,” a pro scout for an American League club said. “He’s just going to get better with repetitions and with a little tweaking here and there.”

So while Buxton’s 12 home runs this season, eight of them in low Class A, don’t overwhelm when compared with the output from top young sluggers such as the Rangers’ Joey Gallo (40), the Cubs’ Javier Baez (37), the Astros’ George Springer (37) or the Twins’ own Miguel Sano (35), he’s on virtually the same trajectory as another five-tool stud for whom power developed later—and suddenly.

Angels center fielder Mike Trout took the baseball world by storm as a rookie in 2012, mashing 30 homers and leading the majors with 49 stolen bases and 129 runs scored. Yet just two years prior to that, a teenaged Trout hit 10 home runs in 131 games during his full-season debut at two Class A levels, one of them the notoriously hitter-friendly California League.

Trout in 2010 excelled at many of the same things that Buxton did this season. He hit for average, he drew walks, he stole bases and he showed budding extra-base power. He even played for the same Cedar Rapids club in the Midwest League, back when it was an Angels affiliate.

Buxton Trout
2013 2010
AVG .334 (6) .341 (10)
OBP .424 (7) .428 (6)
H 163 (10) 173 (8)
R 109 (2) 106 (6)
SB 55 (12) 56 (5)
BB 76 (42) 73 (40)
XBH 49 (99) 47 (184)
Overall rank in the full-season minor leagues in parentheses
Hit 70 70
Power 60 60
Run 80 80
Arm 70 50
Field 70 70
Overall 70 70
Projected future grades on the 20-to-80 scouting scale

To fully realize the eerie similarity between the two players, the chart at right lays out how Buxton (age 19 all season) and Trout (who turned 19 on Aug. 7) compare in several traditional statistical categories and, because this is Baseball America, how scouts projected their tools at the time they played in low Class A.

“The books are full of guys who didn’t show the power numbers in the low minors,” the AL scout said, “and (Buxton) is already showing it.”

While scouts don’t necessarily see Buxton developing into the 30-homer beast that Trout has become, they feel confident that he’ll go deep 20-25 times a year with regularity once he matures.

“Buxton was by far the best I have seen in a long, long time other than Trout,” said high Class A Palm Beach manager Johnny Rodriguez, who managed against Trout in the Midwest League in 2010. “Trout has more power, but Buxton probably does more (things). He has a better arm. He is a better defender than Trout, with better range and jumps.

“They’re both so explosive, and Buxton probably is a better hitter. He has fewer holes than Trout had. That’s what is so amazing, Buxton has very loose hands and has such bat speed, he just sits back on the ball and then explodes through it.”

Peer Pressure

Ask evaluators for Buxton player comps and Trout is not the only name on the tips of their tongues. One scout for a National League club evoked the name of the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen, saying that Buxton has similar upside potential but is more physical at the same age.

Taking a wider view, Buxton stands out among his peers for his advanced skill level. Matching up his output during his first full season with 11 comparable players of recent vintage—that is, toolsy teen outfielders who were premium draft picks and who enjoyed immediate pro success—reveals that Buxton’s overall rate of production is unsurpassed. A few others reside in the same general neighborhood, but no one is obviously better.

For the purposes of this comparison, Buxton’s peer group consists of Jay Bruce (Reds), Josh Hamilton (Rays), Bryce Harper (Nationals), Jason Heyward (Braves), Cameron Maybin (Tigers), Andrew McCutchen (Pirates), Corey Patterson (Cubs), Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins), Mike Trout (Angels), Justin Upton (Diamondbacks) and Delmon Young (Rays). Save for Stanton (second round), all were top-half-of-the-first-round draft picks.

Here are the 12 young standouts, all in their first full seasons, sorted by the “technical” version of Bill James’ runs created metric:

 

Player Year PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH SB BB SO RC
Trout 2010 600 .341 .428 .490 10 47 56 73 85 120
Buxton 2013 574 .334 .424 .520 12 49 55 76 105 116
Stanton 2008 540 .293 .381 .611 39 68 4 58 153 111
Young 2004 578 .322 .388 .538 25 56 21 53 120 109
Patterson 1999 509 .320 .358 .592 20 72 33 25 85 102
Heyward 2008 533 .316 .381 .473 11 46 15 51 78 91
McCutchen 2006 590 .294 .359 .450 17 45 23 50 111 88
Bruce 2006 498 .291 .355 .516 16 63 19 44 106 82
Harper 2011 452 .297 .392 .501 17 43 26 59 87 80
Maybin 2006 445 .304 .387 .457 9 35 27 50 116 72
Upton 2006 501 .263 .343 .413 12 41 15 52 96 65
Hamilton 2000 423 .302 .348 .476 13 39 14 27 71 65
• Buxton (57 games) and Trout (50) spent by far the most time at a level higher than low Class A in the sampled seasons. Harper (37) and McCutchen (20) spent time at Double-A, while Heyward (seven) spent a week at high Class A.

 

Buxton leads the field in walks (76) and walk rate (12.7 percent of plate appearances) and ranks second in in OBP (.424), average (.334), steals (55) and walk-to-strikeout ratio (0.86). He places third in OPS (.944) and fourth in slugging (.520), and if anything this player comparison undersells Buxton’s ability because it includes only the players who experienced initial success.

Other premium prep outfielders with bumpy introductions to pro ball, such as Chris Lubanski (fifth overall, 2003), Ryan Harvey (sixth, 2003), Donavan Tate (third, 2009) and Bubba Starling (fifth, 2011), are not included in the sample.

Tough Competition

Despite Trout’s incredible all-around 2010 campaign, he did not win the BA Minor League POY award that year. (He did win in 2011 after a stellar year at Double-A.) That honor went instead to Rays righthander Jeremy Hellickson, who went 12-3, 2.45 in 21 starts at Triple-A Durham, striking out 123 in 118 innings while walking 35 and allowing five home runs.

The 23-year-old Hellickson made his big league debut that season, logging 36 innings for Tampa Bay, then continued to pitch well in 2011 and ’12 (3.02 ERA over 60 starts) before taking a giant step back with a 5.04 ERA this season.

In an echo of 2010, Buxton’s chief competition for the POY award this year also happens to be a 23-year-old prospect who excelled in the upper minors but who has a lower ceiling. This time it’s Astros center fielder George Springer, who with 37 homers and 45 steals very nearly became the first 40-40 player in the history of the modern minor leagues.

Springer had a huge year, hitting .303/.411/.600 with 68 extra-base hits and 83 walks in 135 games split between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City. He even recorded in the highest power-speed number—a harmonic mean between a player’s homers and steals—of the past 10 seasons. Springer’s propensity to swing and miss, however, places him at greater risk to fall short of fulfilling his ceiling.

Here are the top power-speed performers since 2004 along with each player’s strikeout percentage per plate appearance.

 

Player Year Peak Level Org SO% HR SB PSN
George Springer 2013 Oklahoma City (AAA) Astros 27.3 37 45 41
Grant Desme 2009 Stockton (Hi A) Athletics 26.8 31 40 35
Terry Evans 2006 Arkansas (AA) Angels 22.7 33 37 35
Justin Maxwell 2007 Potomac (Hi A) Nationals 24.2 27 35 30
Greg Halman 2008 West Tenn (AA) Mariners 26.3 29 31 30
Charlton Jimerson 2007 Tacoma (AAA) Mariners 32.2 25 35 29
Nelson Cruz 2008 Oklahoma (AAA) Rangers 19.4 37 24 29
Chris Young 2005 Birmingham (AA) White Sox 23.3 26 32 29
Delmon Young 2005 Durham (AAA) Rays 16.4 26 32 29
Dan Carroll 2011 High Desert (Hi A) Mariners 26.4 18 62 28
• Springer also places 11th on this list based on his 2012 campaign in which he hit 24 homers and stole 32 bases (27 PSN). So too do Evans (27, 2009) and Young (27, 2004) make multiple appearances inside the top 20.

 

We’ve seen how contact liabilities have limited the utility of Justin Maxwell and Chris Young in the big leagues, where they’re part-time/platoon outfielders who offer plus range in center field and plus power production versus lefthanders. It’s a different story against righties, where Maxwell has a career .716 OPS (499 PA) and Young is at .711 (2,808 PA).

None of the other power-speed players with a strikeout rate in excess of 20 percent fashioned a major league career—though Grant Desme and Greg Halman are two of the all-time great what-if propositions, for entirely different reasons.

So while Springer certainly will be a valuable piece to a major league team one day, Buxton’s ceiling is simply too immense, his production too loud when placed in context and his case for POY too strong to ignore.

What’s more, we think Buxton’s case will only grow stronger with time.

J.J. Cooper and John Manuel contributed additional reporting to this story.

 

Minor League Player Of The Year Winners
1981 Mike Marshall, 1b, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
1982 Ron Kittle, of, Edmonton (White Sox)
1983 Dwight Gooden, rhp, Lynchburg (Mets)
1984 Mike Bielecki, rhp, Hawaii (Pirates)
1985 Jose Canseco, of, Huntsville/Tacoma (Athletics)
1986 Gregg Jefferies, ss, Columbia/Lynchburg/Jackson (Mets)
1987 Gregg Jefferies, ss, Jackson/Tidewater (Mets)
1988 Tom Gordon, rhp, Appleton/Memphis/Omaha (Royals)
1989 Sandy Alomar Jr., c, Las Vegas (Padres)
1990 Frank Thomas, 1b, Birmingham (White Sox)
1991 Derek Bell, of, Syracuse (Blue Jays)
1992 Tim Salmon, of, Edmonton (Angels)
1993 Manny Ramirez, of, Canton/Charlotte (Indians)
1994 Derek Jeter, ss, Tampa/Albany/Columbus (Yankees)
1995 Andruw Jones, of, Macon (Braves)
1996 Andruw Jones, of, Durham/Greenville/Richmond (Braves)
1997 Paul Konerko, 1b, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
1998 Eric Chavez, 3b, Huntsville/Edmonton (Athletics)
1999 Rick Ankiel, lhp, Arkansas/Memphis (Cardinals)
2000 Jon Rauch, rhp, Winston-Salem/Birmingham (White Sox)
2001 Josh Beckett, rhp, Brevard County/Portland (Marlins)
2002 Rocco Baldelli, of, Bakersfield/Orlando/Durham (Devil Rays)
2003 Joe Mauer, c, Fort Myers/New Britain (Twins)
2004 Jeff Francis, lhp, Tulsa/Colorado Springs (Rockies)
2005 Delmon Young, of, Montgomery/Durham (Devil Rays)
2006 Alex Gordon, 3b, Wichita (Royals)
2007 Jay Bruce, of, Sarasota/Chattanooga/Louisville (Reds)
2008 Matt Wieters, c, Frederick/Bowie (Orioles)
2009 Jason Heyward, of, Myrtle Beach/Mississippi/Gwinnett (Braves)
2010 Jeremy Hellickson, rhp, Durham/Charlotte (Rays)
2011 Mike Trout, of, Arkansas (Angels)
2012 Wil Myers, of, Northwest Arkansas/Omaha (Royals)

 

 

Minors | #Awards #Byron Buxton #Minnesota Twins #Minor League Player of the Year

Add a Comment

comments powered by Disqus