Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Byron Buxton And The Future

On June 14, 2015, the Minnesota Twins embarked on what they hoped would be a monumental day in the history of the franchise. Drafted 2nd overall in the 2012 Major League Baseball draft, Bryon Buxton was finally a member of the Twins active roster. Billed as baseball's best prospect, the expectations were through the roof. Now three months into his career, things haven't gone as expected.

Or maybe they have.

As of this writing, Buxton has played in 34 games, and slashed a paltry .202/.242/.272. He has one triple, six doubles, and just 23 hits in 114 at bats. He's struck out 39 times while drawing only five free bases. To put it lightly, the offensive output has been less than stellar. What is hasn't been though is unexpected.

Buxton tore up the farm system. He's a career .301/.383/.489 hitter across four seasons, and he batted .400/.441/.545 in 13 games at the Triple-A level this season. That's indicative more of what he's capable of than it is what should have been expected. Coming to the big leagues, Buxton was a Gold Glove caliber defender from the onset, but the bat was going to take some time.

At this point, Buxton's offensive repertoire is a direct reflection of his speed. He is putting the ball on the ground at a 47.8% rate as well as owning a 21.2 infield hit percentage. On top of needing to adjust to big league pitching, Buxton is doing himself few favors in regards to the strike zone. Swinging at 32.3% of pitches outside of the zone, he's chasing far too often. Reflected in his 69.3% contact rate, Buxton has room to improve when it comes to putting his pitch in play.

Aside from the numbers, Buxton has always been expected to hit, in time. Given a 70 grade by MLB.com scouts, he's regarded as close to a sure thing at the plate. In time, the tools should absolutely become reality, and allow the former number one prospect to provide plus value at the plate. For now, that value is evidenced in other aspects.

Not going well at the plate, it's integral that Buxton find himself playing (and contributing) in the field often. Thus far, he's done exactly that. Playing 283 defensive innings in centerfield for the Twins, Buxton has already been worth 4 DRS (defensive runs saved). As things stand, Buxton would be on pace for 21 DRS over the course of 162 games. That mark would trail only Kevin Kiermaier's 38 this season for centerfielders in all of baseball.

In his first taste with the Twins, Buxton has not only gained extremely valuable experience, but he's given insight of what is, and what will be. Right now, a raw hitter and an incredibly good defender, Buxton is only half of the puzzle. What he should be expected to do, is draw his hitting ability more closer to that he has displayed with his glove.

Looking forward, Buxton's floor might be something like a better version of Mike Cameron. A guy that was a career .249/.338/.444 hitter and compiled a 50.7 fWAR across 16 seasons. Both offensively and defensively, Buxton should be superior at his worst. Looking at a doomsday scenario though, the Twins could do much worse. Speculating about the ceiling probably isn't fair. Buxton remains an incredible athlete and should be expected to take significant strides forward in 2016. Reaching his potential, he could find himself being a perennial All Star.

Keeping things in perspective, it's best to remember that what Buxton is providing the Twins in 2015 is far less important than what the Twins are providing him. Allowing the floor to be raised, Buxton's future is only a glimmer at this point, but it still remains plenty bright.

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