On June 4, I took stock of Byron Buxton’s phenomenal campaign in Single-A and asked our readers a simple question: was the Twins’ outfielder the best fantasy prospect in the game, and if not, who was?
After examining the extraordinary numbers Buxton had posted to that point in the season, I concluded that Buxton was surely a Top 10 name, but was not yet ready to give him the top spot. After all, the likes of Jurickson Profar, Oscar Taveras and Xander Bogaerts all loomed large, and each was significantly closer to the majors.
That opinion came back when Buxton was hitting “a modest” .333/.435/.545 with a wRC+ of 174 through 240 PA. Of course, the 19-year-old would go on to finish with a .341/.431/.559 line in 321 PA in Single-A, before hitting .326/.415/.472 in 253 PA in High-A.Put a pillow over your lap and take a gander at Buxton’s hit chart, courtesy of MLB Farm.
His jaw-dropping performance – plus incessant comparisons to Mike Trout – has Buxton universally regarded as the best prospect, fantasy or otherwise, in the game.
But, despite his immense upside and accelerated timeline, should Buxton so readily be considered fantasy’s top minor leaguer?
Let’s play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, and list three reasons why Buxton might not deserve the top spot.
1) He’s still a ways away
Yes, Buxton might start 2014 in Double-A and that puts him a stone’s throw from the majors. But when compared to guys like Bogaerts and Taveras, who we can pretty much safely guarantee will spend most if not all of 2014 in the big leagues, Buxton’s fantasy glow becomes a bit diminished.
Buxton hasn’t struggled at all yet in his pro career, other than a 102 PA sample size in rookie ball, but there’s no guarantee that he won’t eventually hit a small bump or two on the road during his ascent to stardom. Plus, Buxton will play all of 2014 at age 20, and while the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Bogaerts have shown us that teams are willing to promote young stars, these players are still the exception and not the rule.
This is admittedly a weaker argument now than it was in June, but it remains true that we might not see Buxton in the majors until mid-2015.
2) The Twins are awful
This ties into point number one, but Minnesota is going to be really, really bad next season, so there’s no reason to rush Buxton to the majors.
The Twins finished 25th in the majors in runs scored, 23rd in OPS and 23rd in SLG. They were 29th in ERA last in quality starts and 28th in WHIP. There’s really nothing they did well.
Minnesota does possess some young players with upside, like Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, Brian Dozier and Kyle Gibson. On the other hand, they could very well rely on the likes of Darin Mastroianni, Pedro Florimon and Vance Worley to play significant roles as well.
It’s tough to concoct a scenario in which the Twins don’t finish last or second-to-last in the AL Central this year, and that will disincentives the organization to call up its next wave of talented players like Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer. Perhaps they’ll get cups of coffee, but why start the arbitration clock before you have to?
3) Buxton is an outfielder
This point ties into point No. 2, but the one area where the Twins actually have some depth is in the outfield. Hicks and Arcia are going to be given every chance to prove they belong in 2013, and while neither is the type of talent you’d let stand in Buxton’s way, there’s little reason to give up on them now, either. The Twins also have Eddie Rosario a bit ahead of Buxton on the depth chart, and he may be transitioned back to the outfield soon as well.
Meyer and Sano are more fortunate in that they have clearer paths to playing time and more experience in the upper minors. I’d expect them to see significantly more playing time in 2014 than will Buxton.
Also, Buxton doesn’t play in the infield or behind the plate. Is that the end of the world? No. But he does need to produce a bit more in the outfield than he would at a position with less depth in order to ranking as baseball’s most promising fantasy MiLB.
So where does this leave us with Buxton and his quest to top the fantasy prospect rankings?
I think you can certainly argue that he deserves the spot, and I’m not sure you can argue against his having the highest upside. But I don’t think it’s cut and dry, either.
Buxton isn’t likely to contribute much in 2014 and doesn’t play a premium fantasy position. Even if we were to play a ton, he’d be a two-and-a-half-trick pony right now, as he’s yet to hit for significant power and would face scarce RBI or R opportunity in Minnesota.
I’m willing to be convinced that I’m wrong, but right now, I think I’d have Buxton as the No. 3 fantasy prospect in the game, behind Bogaerts and Taveras. The former is a shortstop poised to contribute to baseball’s best offense, and the latter might have to settle for batting in baseball’s third best offense instead. If it doesn’t look like Taveras will be handed a starting job out of Spring Training I’d be more receptive to ranking him behind Buxton, but I think some people lost sight of how special Taveras is because of his injuries in 2013.
So, what say you, loyal TDG readers? Is the case for Buxton as baseball’s best fantasy prospect as clear cut as many make it out to be?