About a month ago, I noticed a conversation in the gameday discussion about former #1 overall prospect, Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton. Sure, he’s no longer a prospect, but he has yet to solidify his future in the big leagues. Some are ready to call him a bust and move on - a .219/.280/.363 line over his first 772 plate appearances seems to point in that direction.
However, Buxton does have a broad base of talents and youth still on his side. I was curious, how have other prospects with similar results at this point in their career done?
Thanks to Fangraphs, it was easy enough to find out. I looked at all players since integration with at least 500 PA through their age-23 seasons. I limited this group to those with less than an 80 wRC+, an ISO greater than .100, and positive marks in both BsR and Def (the base running and defensive components of fWAR).
There were 16 players who met these criteria - five of which are still playing, four of which are barely into their careers. Buxton has a .144 ISO, which ranks second on the list. His 11.7 BsR also ranks second. His 11.8 Def is basically tied for third. His wRC+ is tied for seventh.
Here’s the entire table:
As a group, they averaged 870 PA and 1.0 fWAR through their age-23 seasons, with some of them still adding to these totals. Looking at players who have completed their career, plus Carlos Gomez who has played more than half of a career, the group on average had 2930 more career PA after their age-23 season, creating 8.9 more fWAR.
A career 9.9 fWAR would put Buxton near the 1000-best player since integration - not great, but not a bust either. Actually, it would put him in the upper half of qualified players since integration. And if he matches the top half of this group, he would end up with over 17 fWAR and 5000 PA - right around the top quartile of qualified players since integration.
And who knows, maybe he pulls a Carlos Gomez. Gomez struggled for five years and 1678 plate appearances, putting up a 72 wRC+ (very close to Buxton’s current 70 wRC+) - but still being worth 6.6 fWAR thanks to his defense and base running. Finally, at age 26, he started putting it together and has a 111 wRC+ and 21.5 fWAR in 2993 plate appearances. Would it be that far fetched to see Buxton follow the path of a similarly highly-ranked prospect who struggled in the big leagues?
Byron Buxton has not been a great offensive player. But with his defense and base running, he’s been a productive baseball player. Looking at other players with similar skill sets, he should be able to produce a valuable career, even if it isn’t as great as anticipated when he was the top prospect in baseball.