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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Baseball's Forgotten 5-Tool Talent

by Harry Cummins

     In 2015, Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton was named's Number 1 prospect in all of baseball for the second consecutive year.  He was the 'can't miss' kid.

     Buxton, 21 at the time, had played in only 31 games in the Minor Leagues in 2014 due to a left wrist injury and a concussion sustained in his first career game at Double A.  He also was sidelined with a broken finger that required surgery while he was playing in the Arizona Fall League that same season.  Yet, he still retained his esteemed position ahead of Kris Bryant as the top young player in the game.

     There was little doubt that the Twins had uncovered an organizational cornerstone player for years to come when they selected the 18 year old senior from Appling County High School in Georgia with the number 2 overall pick behind Carlos Correa in the 2012 MLB draft.   Their choice was confirmed in 2017,when Buxton put together a full MLB season that portended of super-stardom.

     He batted .253 that year, with 16 home runs, 51 rbi's and 29 stolen bases.  His post All-Star break numbers of .300/11/35/13 jumped off the charts.  The defensive numbers were even better, earning him a Golden Glove award in centerfield for the Twins.  His flashy glove became a final resting place for sure-fire extra base hits as he was third in MLB in defensive runs saved, behind only Angels SS Andrelton Simmons and Boston's Mookie Betts.  He also led the league with 25 "outs above average", a new-wave Statcast metric that factors in catch difficulty.

     Perhaps the signature moment of that 2017 season came in August, when Buxton flew around the bases on the fastest ever recorded inside-the-park home run in 13.85 seconds, an average of 25.9 feet per second. Coupled with his successful stolen base rate, and his ability to run down balls in the outfield gaps, Buxton's functional game speed was the most impressive of his multiple tools.

     Then came the ill-fated 2018 season, which quickly became a lost one for Buxton.  He only played 28 games in Minnesota, hitting just .156 with no home runs and just 5 steals.  A lingering left wrist injury resulted in his demotion to the minor leagues and was never recalled despite showing he had recovered.  He avoided arbitration this winter, by agreeing to a 1 year, 1.75 million contract.  He is all but forgotten by fans and player ranking services as the Twins approach the 2019 season.

     Minnesota has made several key additions during the off-season, claiming C.J. Cron off waivers from the Rays, and signing 3 free agents in Nelson Cruz, Blake Parker, and Jonathan Schoop.  They will join outstanding young players like Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios on the major league level, as well as minor leagues prospects Alex Kiriloff and Royce Lewis.

     Things are trending up at Target Field for 2019.  There is little talk, tho, of the 25 year old, 6'2" athletic kid still targeted to man centerfield for the Twins.  While most have long forgotten the once jaw-dropping promise of Bryon Buxton,.. you should not!


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