Minnesota Twins rookie prospect Byron Buxton will open 2016 as the club's starting center fielder. Buxton has been an elite prospect for several years and his time is now. What can we expect?
First, the comment from the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book:
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-1 WT: 188 DOB: December 18, 1993
2013: Grade B+; 2014: Grade A; 2015: Grade A
After missing most of 2014 with various injuries, Byron Buxton played very well against Double-A and Triple-A competition in 2015, showing his expected blend of excellent speed, gap power, reasonable on-base abilities, and superb defense. The Twins brought him up in June; unfortunately his bat was not ready for big league competition and he was overmatched, not exactly a huge shock given the rust he still needed to work off. Missing additional time with a sprained thumb last summer was also a hindrance for his development. Buxton retains rookie status for 2016 and is still one of the top prospects in baseball, capable of providing quality production in multiple categories. This assumes he’ll avoid further injury problems and gets enough at-bats to iron out the contact issues that hurt him in the majors. I think he will eventually, but it might take a year or two before he fully blossoms. We’ll stick with the Grade A.
Buxton did not have a great spring, hitting .245/.291/.306 with three doubles, two steals, three walks, and 17 strikeouts. Yes, it is a small sample and spring training stats can be weird, but the poor BB/K/AB ratio is a red flag. In the minors Buxton has shown impressive strike zone judgment, but he had huge problems with that during his major league trial last year (six walks, 44 strikeouts in 129 at-bats) and that trend has continued this spring. I find that concerning.
It is fair to say that Buxton's glove is ahead of his bat right now and we'll be seeing more plays like this in the regular season:
Great catch by No. 2 overall prospect Byron Buxton. pic.twitter.com/N22iuEg0mR— Vince Lara-Cinisomo (@vincelara) March 31, 2016
The Twins are committed to him in center and as long as he plays well defensively, they will be patient with his hitting.
Someone asked for a projected Buxton slash line. How about .257/.312/.408, with a wRC+ in the mid-90s, nine homers, 19 steals, but impressive defensive work giving him a positive WAR value? That will seem disappointing given his ranking on prospect lists but we have to think long-term.
As I wrote in the book comment, I think Buxton will iron out his hitting issues as long as he stays healthy, but it may take some time. Even the best prospects can need an adjustment period. Buxton should still develop into one of the best players in the league, but that may be in 2019, not 2016.