As we inch closer to the 2013 season, top-100 lists are being released with Byron Buxton ranked prominently. As the number-two overall pick in 2012, high rankings are expected. A few years ago, organization mate Aaron Hicks was held in equally high regard.
Today, Hicks ranks towards the bottom of top-1oo lists as five professional seasons have yielded mixed results. For those expecting Buxton’s tools to translate into production immediately, Hicks serves as a cautionary tale. But Hicks’ mini-breakout in 2012 and subsequent shot at the center field position in spring training serve as a reminder to bet on tools — Even if they take awhile to develop.
Video after the jump
What’s interesting about Hicks’ development is he has never been less than an above average at any level, or old for his level of competition, yet is considered a disappointment by many. In 2012, his offense was 33% better than league average, but met with a shoulder shrug as prospect analysts moved him even further down their respective lists. When this occurs, maybe the bar was simply set too high to begin with.
This is my fear for Byron Buxton as he enters his first full season. Having seen the teenager in August, the tools were as advertised, but refinement was lacking — Especially at the plate. Should he struggle in 2013, just how many people will jump off the Buxton bandwagon?
A physical specimen, Buxton has a lean and muscular build. In person, the “freakish” athlete I was expecting to see was more subdued. At Buxton’s age, exceptional physical tools often present as athletes playing baseball. His baseball movements are fluid, but Buxton is far from a finished product.
Buxton’s hand eye coordination is worth mentioning as well. One advantage of arriving at the park four hours before first pitch is the ability to observe everything. In Elizabethton, young Twins players emerged from the locker room early to play a game. The game began with them standing in a circle with a ball in each hand. Then, a round of pseudo-juggling would ensue with players quickly passing a ball to free a hand to catch an incoming ball. When a ball was dropped, the player was out.
Watching Buxton dominate the game was a thing to behold. In a test of peripheral vision, hand speed and hand eye coordination, the teenage phenom was infallible and far above a handful of teammates considered to be legitimate prospects in their own right.
His remarkable hands carried into batting practice as Buxton’s elite bat speed and flat swing plane produced line drives which left the infield faster than the eye was able to track. Only premium prospects are able to produce the bat speed Buxton does with so little effort. However, his swing produces little lift which is bound to suppress home run totals.
During the game, Buxton’s four plate appearances resulted in a strikeout and three, 6-3 ground balls. His swing was less fluid in live at bats and he failed to make adjustments. Shoulder dip in the back of Buxton’s swing also created length. For a player like of Buxton’s ability, these minor issues are easily corrected.
Buxton went untested on defense, but he flashed gap-to-gap range and plus arm strength in pre-game warmups. His arm was also surprisingly accurate. With reps and experience, he’ll become a plus defensive center fielder.
From video, I pulled multiple 4.15 home-to-first times with Buxton running max effort. It’s difficult to complain about 65 run times, but he wasn’t quite the burner I was expecting.
For all of the questions surrounding the development of Aaron Hicks, it now appears the Twins were correct to move him slowly. Buxton may need to be treated with the same kid gloves. This leaves Minnesota as the perfect landing spot for the teenage phenom.