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.
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.
|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|
|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.”
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:
|• 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.
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.
|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)|