I went to Davenport, Iowa, last week to see the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Low-A farm team for the Minnesota Twins) play the Quad Cities River Bandits (Low-A affiliate for the Houston Astros). The CR team is particularly loaded with prospects. Quad Cities has talent as well, although unfortunately the two best hitters on the team, Carlos Correa and Rio Ruiz, were injured and on the disabled list during my trip. A rainout interfered and I also missed Lance McCullers, but I still came away with some interesting information and observations to share with you. We'll get this started with a solo report on Minnesota Twins uber-prospect Byron Buxton.
As you are no doubt aware, Buxton was drafted by the Twins in the first round last June, second overall, from high school in Baxley, Georgia. He was considered to be the top position player prospect in the draft by many experts, featuring outstanding overall tools including speed, power potential, a strong arm, and excellent overall athleticism. There was some muted concern in high school about how his swing would translate into pro ball; his production against weak competition as a prep was uneven, but his upside was so high that most observers didn't particularly care and it was felt that his problems were correctable. If his power blossomed, he could develop into an Andrew McCutchen-style across the board star. If his bat proved troublesome, he might be more of a Cameron Maybin type.
Buxton hit .216/.324/.466 in 27 games in the Gulf Coast League last summer, followed by a .286/.368/.429 mark in 21 games in the Appalachian League, combining for 19 walks and 41 strikeouts in 165 at-bats. That wasn't bad at all, especially considering that the Twins were spending a lot of time reworking his swing. The results this spring have been outstanding: .352/.458/.608 in 33 games for Cedar Rapids, with 25 walks and 29 strikeouts in 125 at-bats. He has also stolen 13 bases in 19 attempts.
Born December 18, 1993, Buxton is a right-handed hitter listed at 6-2, 190. The height/weight looks accurate visually: he wasn't a beast on the field in terms of size. The athleticism, on the other hand, does stand out: he's loose and a bit lanky, but moves with ease and grace at all times.
I knew he was fast, with at least 70-speed, but he still took me by surprise. In the first inning, he hit a routine ground ball to the third baseman. It was a normal play, the third baseman made a normal scoop and made a normal, on-time, on target throw to first base. Buxton beat the throw for a single; I literally said "holy shit" out loud. There are reports that he's been timed at 3.70 down the first base line and I completely believe it. He's almost as fast as Cincinnati Reds prospect Billy Hamilton.
Buxton was not challenged on any fielding play in center field in the game I saw, so I didn't see his legs or arm fully tested. However, he appeared alert and active in the field, backed up the infielders properly, and looked very good in pre-game outfield drills. Scouts give his range and arm plus ratings and I didn't see anything to make me question that.
Buxton didn't have a great game with the bat, going 1-for-4 with that infield single, a walk, and two strikeouts. He was very selective early in the count and is developing a very good batting eye, but both strikeouts came on sliders outside the strike zone that he'll need to lay off at higher levels. His bat was quick and his swing was compact, but despite the outstanding numbers he's put up this season, in this particular game the ball did not jump off his bat with much authority.
His swing looked level to me, and if I didn't know who he was, I don't know I would see him as a huge future home run hitter based on just this one game. He looked like a guy who would hit for average with doubles power, but like I said, it was just one game and I didn't see anything that would be a red flag that his overall numbers are a fluke. Midwest League sources who have seen him play frequently buy into him completely.
I paid a lot of attention to his body language before and during the game. He looked like he was having a good time, but also appeared focused and serious when appropriate. Buzz about his makeup is positive, and I didn't see anything to make me doubt that. He hustled and did everything he was supposed to do when he was supposed to do it.
There is a lot of speculation about when the Twins should move Buxton up to High-A. Based on what I saw Wednesday, he still has a few things to learn in the Midwest League. The Twins usually don't rush their prospects, and I don't see the harm in leaving him in Cedar Rapids for another month or so.
Overall, although it wasn't one of his best games, I came away from the Quad Cities very impressed with Buxton. He's the real deal and clearly one of the best prospects in the game. I was a bit cautious with his ranking on my initial Top 150 Prospects for 2013 back in March, ranking him 37th. I'd jump him up at least 25 spots right now and probably more, into the Top 10. As other players graduate off the list, Buxton will likely be in the Top Five.