Wednesday, March 12, 2014

14 Minnesota Twins to Watch in '14: Byron Buxton

Hope, promise, potential.  Those words mean a lot to a baseball team, but none of those things actually help a team win baseball games.  As fans we can take solace in the knowledge of potential, promise for the future, or even hope that things will get better.  At some point, potential has to actualize.  Promise needs to translate to production.  Hope needs to give way to wins.  In the case of an individual player, we want to see the performance that we all hope for.  Of course, having hope, promise and potential keeps a player exciting, even if they haven't played an MLB game.  For the Twins, their potential franchise player is looming and as fans, we hope to see him in 2014. 

The most important Twins player in 2014 is Byron Buxton.

Who is he? 

The Twins need to send a gift basket to the Houston Astros every day, because they passed on Buxton and the Twins nabbed him with the second overall pick in the 2012 draft.  Buxton currently holds the title of "consensus best prospect in all of baseball."  I'm not sure that I found a single expert who put Buxton lower than number one on their top prospect list.  I've said this before, if you know of an expert who did list him lower than one, you can go ahead and ignore that person going forward.  Buxton is a true centerfielder with ridiculous speed and therefore, range.  He possesses a strong arm, a good ability to make contact, budding power and impressive baseball instincts.  Plus, based on all reports, he's a good guy.   

He was all of those things prior to the 2013 season and he was considered just a great prospect, but he wasn't being compared to Willie Mays just yet.  He enjoyed a massive breakout in 2013, hitting .334/.424/.520 between Low-A Cedar Rapids and High-A Fort Myers.  He added 19 doubles, 12 home runs, 55 stolen bases and a simply ridiculous 18 triples.  He walked 76 times and struck out just 105 times.  He did all of this at age 19.  Oh, he also made just two errors and several highlight-level catches in center. 

Why is he important?


Ok, we all need to take a breath, but how often does a player like Buxton come along?  I hesitate to write about what might happen if he doesn't reach his ceiling because I can't bear to think that way.  I don't want to be responsible for jinxing the next big thing.  I want Byron Buxton to become the superstar that the experts have described.  I want to see Eric Davis mixed with Bo Jackson mixed with Willie Mays.  Who wouldn't want to see that?!?

Even if he cannot reach his unfair ceiling, he fills major needs on any baseball team.  He's a breathtaking defender with an excellent arm.  He's going to play center in the Majors no matter how he hits.  But he can hit!  He makes great contact, he has a good eye and he's got power that could continue to grow as he grows.  He can occupy the leadoff spot, hit third, or, who knows, maybe bat cleanup one day?  It simply depends on where the Twins want to put him because he will likely fit everywhere.  Plus, he's astonishingly fast.  He can steal bases the traditional way and he can steal extra bases when he puts the ball in play.  His speed is one of the biggest reasons why his defense is so outstanding.  We've come full circle!  It is important to note that he's not just a tool shed.  He's got instincts, intelligence and aptitude as well.  He has the biggest tool shed.  He is the tool shed!

I'm completely out of breath right now. 

Paul the Positive Puma's Take:

You know the scene in Major League 2 when Rube says "forget the signs, just bring the heat, Ricky!"  You don't?  Major League 2 isn't that bad, everyone.  Give it a chance.  Anyway, I feel that way about Buxton.  Forget about stats.  Forget about projection.  Forget about development.  Just bring me the Buxton!  It is an admittedly impatient perspective, but I just can't wait to see this guy play for the Twins.  I've only seen glimpses of Buxton and I'm ready for much, much more. 

Joe Mauer is a superstar, but he's not the kind of superstar that Buxton could become.  Buxton could be anything.  For me, that's why prospects are so exciting.  They are mold-able clay, only you aren't held back by your 4th grade art education.  Buxton is a particularly exciting prospect because he could literally become the greatest player in baseball history.  It's not fair to put that on a player, but I'll go ahead and guess he doesn't read this blog.  I'm an optimist, but I'm also a realist.  Sorry, Brad.

Peter the Pessimistic Puma's Take:

I'm not going to take my typical negative route with Buxton.  First, I'm worried that I'd get sniped by an angry Twins fan.  Second, I want to believe in Buxton just as much as anyone.  Don't mistake my pessimism for hatred.  I love the Twins and I want them to do well.  Sadly, I haven't had much to get excited about recently.  Buxton excites me.  I know that he's not a sure thing, but everything I have read seems to indicate that he's a safe prospect, even if his ceiling proves to be inaccurately measured. 

It's impossible for me to be completely sunny and I have a slight reservation because he hasn't done anything above A Ball.  I always worry a bit that the World will come crashing down at some point.  You just can't predict everything.  That said, what the heck, you have to believe in something, right?!  I believe in Byron Buxton. 

What to look for in '14:

It's hard to argue that the most important Twins player for the coming season is someone who may not play a single MLB game, but here we are.  Buxton's development in 2014 is more important than anything else in this organization.  If Buxton takes a step back, the Twins' hope for the future takes a step back as well.  Buxton has superstar potential.  He could be Mike Trout, or even better.  Some have argued that you can't measure Buxton's ceiling because he simply doesn't have one.  His combination of tools and present performance at his young stage of development have lead many to think that he could become a multiple-time MVP and a Championship-level cornerstone player. 

The last several paragraphs were light on analysis and heavy on drooling/admiration/swooning.  Some perspective is still needed.  Buxton will be just 20 next season.  He'll start at AA and hopefully get all the way to Minnesota by season's end.  However, if he doesn't, that doesn't make him a failure or lower his ceiling.  He has the right to struggle as he adjusts.  AA pitching will be far more advanced than Buxton has ever seen before.  If he gets off to a slow start, don't freak out.  I swear the first person who states something along the lines of "Oh, I thought this Buxton guy was a stud, why is he only hitting .250?  #Bust." will get a very stern look from me. 

Buxton struggled in Spring Training, almost entirely because he isn't ready for the Majors just yet.  He's getting there, but it's going to be awhile.  In the meantime, enjoy his growing legend and get your popcorn ready for his MLB debut.  It will be a spectacle. 

Thank you for joining me on this journey to count down the 14 most important players in 2014.  It was emotional at times, but we made it because we stuck together.  Have a nice day, everyone!

If you haven't been paying close attention, I'm counting down the 14 most important Twins players for the 2014 season.  This was just one part in a 14-part series.  If you missed any of the previous installments, just click here as I have put them all in one nice, tidy location for you.  I'm the best.

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