Byron Buxton is a young man of very few words, but those who know him and have seen him play have no shortage of stories to tell. Some of those tales illustrate his character while others sound like folklore. He was considered the best position player in the country in the 2012 draft class and his on-field performance reflected that. He hit .513 with 68 runs scored, 17 doubles, 35 RBIs, 38 stolen bases and struck out just five times. He also went 10-1, 1.90 on the mound with five saves and 154 strikeouts in 81 innings while walking just
Those numbers alone would net all kinds of accolades, but he led Appling County High (Baxley, Ga.) to its first state championship in a male sport. After losing Game One of the final series with Buxton on the mound, the Pirates bounced back in Game Two before a tropical storm delayed the deciding game. The wait worked out well, as Buxton was rested enough to pitch again.
“Byron took the first loss personal,” head coach Jeremy Smith said. “So in Game Three, he came to me and said, ‘I want the ball. I got you coach.’ ”
Buxton made good on his promise with a complete-game, 18-strikeout victory to lift the Pirates to the Georgia 2-A title.
This year’s debate in the office for who should be the High School Player of the Year got testy at times, but Buxton’s season, state championship performance and status as a prospect sealed the deal. Buxton is extremely humble and quiet, rarely touting his athletic exploits or giving answers with more than a few words. Not long before finding out he was named the BA High School Player of the Year--and after signing a pro contract for a $6 million dollar bonus--he was in his football coach’s office just catching up and said he had to head out to mow the lawn at home. The people of South Georgia love Buxton about as much as he loves them so after featuring him in the Draft Preview, we let others tell their favorite stories this time.
Jack Powell, Area Scout, Minnesota Twins: “The first time I saw him play was two years ago in the World Wood Bat tournament in Atlanta. He wasn’t physical at all, but he had that really good body and you knew it was going get really good. The thing that was really impressive about him then was how easy the game was for him. There was no effort. He would glide in the outfield. When you watched him run, you knew that he could really run easy. He had a really good run stride, was strong. Watching his arm work, everything was just loose, fluid and easy. Then when he got into the batter’s box, the first time I saw him swing, I said ‘Whoa!’ For the amount of bat speed that he had, he had that ability to keep the bat in zone a long time.”
“When you have a young kid, a lot of times all the attention can be a distraction for him. It was never a distraction for him. That’s maturity, baseball instinct, baseball intelligence and being a young man at 17, 18 years old.
“I took some video with my cell phone of him taking BP and an intersquad game. I sent it to (scouting director Deron Johnson) and (scouting supervisor) Tim O’Neil. When you listened to it, even though it was a cell phone, you could hear the ball explode off the bat. I’ll never forget, D.J. called me the next morning and said ‘You woke me up better than a Starbucks coffee.’ And D.J. loves Starbucks. Then, I knew he was a guy.”
Jeremy Smith, Head Coach, Appling County: “Byron had so many great moments in his senior year. Let me say first that it has been a privilege to coach this outstanding young man. He is more than just a great baseball player. He is a great person. He is humble, hard-working, and truly cares about his teammates. Byron always puts the team first. He is very close with the eight other seniors on the team. They are a very close-knit group that stays together all the time. Even when scouts came to watch Byron hit, he didn’t want it to just be about him, he wanted the whole team to hit as well. Byron is motivated and determined.”
Josh Barber, Shortstop, Appling County: “When we were 9 years old, we were on the all-star team for our county and we were playing in a tournament. It was raining one night we were playing. Byron comes up, and we were playing on a field that is set up with a Green Monster, and he hit it over the Green Monster at 9 years old and that’s like a 14-year-olds’ field. It was crazy.”
J.T. Pollock, Athletic Director/Head Coach, Appling County High Football: “He’s a kid that can run like the wind, has an incredible arm, and a great vertical leap. He’s the best basketball player in our school. And as good of an athlete as he was, he was confident enough to not have to walk around with bravado. He’s very quiet, very humble and doesn’t feel like he has to prove himself.
“I had nightmares last summer before football season started, because I knew the opportunities he was going to have in baseball. I brought him and his dad into my office to have a talk. I wanted him to understand, whether he played football or not I was going to love and support him just because of the type of kid he was. He says, ‘Coach, I’m playing football.’ I told him I wanted him to play, but with opportunities you, you and I both know you can get hurt walking out that door. But if you play football your chances of getting hurt increase. I want you to be aware of that and if you get hurt, I don’t want you to feel resentment toward me because I leaned on you to play. He said, ‘Coach, I’m playing football.’ So I said let’s go and he never looked back.”
Greg Gay, Head Coach, Pierce County High: “Game Three is the one that really stands out to me. He just willed his team to a state championship. They had a good club, we had a good club. In the past we’ve been able to get to him late in the game as we got his pitch count up, but I just knew when we came out in the seventh and the first pitch he threw was 91 mph. He just willed his team to a victory. Honestly, there was nothing we could do as a baseball team to beat him that day. The look in his eye, he just had a different demeanor about him. It came down to that one moment and it’s something he’s probably wanted to do himself, but knowing Byron he’s the type of kid that wanted to do it for his team and community too.
“We’ve played first-round picks before. Byron is different. Some of the other guys one or two tools. This guy is a five-tool guy. That’s what is impressive about him. I don’t know Byron well, but he’s a very humble kid. Knowing his parents the little bit I know them, they live by modest means and are very humble people. He’s just a great kid. That’s the first time we had the opportunity to play for a state championship. Of course, we go to Game Three and lose 6-4. The only thing that can console this is knowing who you lost to. Appling had a good team even without Byron. With Byron they were practically unbeatable.”
Paul Glass, Head Coach, Davis High: “We’re pretty big rivals with those guys so we get him at his best when he’s amped up a little more. Of course he’s dominant on the mound and at the plate, but I think the biggest thing with him is his speed. You talk about things that are different. There was a time, there was a base hit and it looked like a routine base hit, a little bit between two outfielders. Our guy played it pretty well and he comes up to make the throw just to get the ball in and Byron is standing on second base.
“We tell our guys you gotta play faster, your mind has to work faster. You have to have a clock in your head. I don’t know that there’s any clock in your head to deal with that kind of speed. We’ve never come close to seeing a guy with that speed. It’s not just home to first. It’s everywhere. He’s a guy, and a lot of times you won’t see this, he’s fast and fast all the time. We’ve never seen him tank it down the line on a routine ground ball. He puts the pressure on you with his speed. If it’s a pop-up, you look up and he’s already on second base. If you drop it, it’s going to be a double, maybe even a triple. There’s time we’ve played good players that have turned it on when they had to and turned it off. This guy, he never did that.
“Throwing with the velocity he does, you’re going to be dominant. Our whole thing was let’s make him be a pitcher. Let’s put him in the stretch, see if he can field his position. Things pitchers pitchers have to do besides throw it over the plate. And he did that. Every way we thought we could attack him, nothing worked. If you put him on, he’ll be on third in two pitches. You pitch around him, he’s going to take his walks and not chase a pitch. He’s the ultimate player.”
Jamie Ammons, Assistant Coach, Pierce County: “When I coached in college, he came up to a showcase and you just knew then that he wasn’t ever going to see a college field. How fast he was, the tools he showed. The unbelievable swing. His arm speed, bat speed, foot speed. What’s going to propel him to do well is the way he was raised.”