Like Aaron Hicks, Buxton Will Require Patience

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.

Year Level wRC+
2008 R 146
2009 A 111
2010 A 134
2011 A+ 103
2012 AA 133

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.

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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.

18 Responses to “Like Aaron Hicks, Buxton Will Require Patience”

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  1. dirtbag says:

    Is it just me, or does he look smaller than the listed 6’2″ 190?

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  2. drewcorb says:

    The observation about Buxton’s level bat swing is interesting. It seems like that is an organizational thing. If it helps keep his Ks down and elevate his batting average by sacrificing some power, it sounds like a good move to me. That approach helped turn Ben Revere and Denard Span into quality players. I’m not sure how comparable to Byron Buxton they were though.

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    • ThatGuy says:

      My guess is that it’s his natural swing tendancy as Buztin has had limited pro experience. I doubt the Twins signed him and were able to change his swing plane in the short time before this video was taken last year

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  3. Brian says:

    The first few minutes of him fielding balls, I could’ve sworn it was Lewis Brinson

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  4. daddyboomboom says:

    Thanks for a great post Mike. Could you say when you had a chance to observe Buxton? I know his numbers improved over the course of the season and I’m wondering where to situate what you’ve written here.

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  5. Cus says:

    If you compare his in-game at bats with the BP video he struggled setting his hands back as fully in game as he did in BP. That seemed to throw off the rest of his timing from foot strike, hips, to getting his hands through the zone. That’s also probably why he rolled over all the 6-3 grounders and failed to inside out/square up the ball with authority as his did during BP.

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  6. Tim says:

    Do we really care if people jump off the Buxton bandwagon? The Twins basically don’t trade prospects, so there’s not much use in keeping his perceived value high. It seems like he’ll end up the same player whether prospect evaluators are drooling over him or not.

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  7. SDM says:

    this is the issue I have with ranking, just drafted kids who have yet to play any meaningful time in the minors. I with that lists would require some kind of meaningful threshold that prospects must play past before being considered for a top prospect in all of mlb.

    maybe a secondary list ranking the newly drafted crew would also suffice for prospect lovers

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  8. Alskntwnsfn says:

    He looks like a very good athlete (I don’t know about the Bo Jackson comps, but nobody is).

    I’m not crazy about that swing though. Given where his hands start, he’s going to have a hard time getting any loft on low pitches and may struggle even making contact with anything in the outside/low quadrant. I wish he’d get his hands a little lower so it flattens out the plane of his swing… that would give him more margin for error and make it easier to drive the pitch the other way.

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  9. The Twins have proven to be good at slow developing toolsy outfielders. Torii Hunter, Jacques Jones, Denard Span and to a lesser extent, Ben Revere all had up and down development in the minors and the Twins were patient with all of them. Span was considered a bust until a great half AAA stint and suddenly was productive everyday centerfielder. Hopefully, they can do the same with Hicks and Buxton.

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  10. Pinstripe Wizard says:

    I personally am not a fan of these toolsy players. Yeah, it’s nice when it clicks for one of them and they turn into superstars. I just would rather have guys with two or three tools that don’t require a ton of projection. Projection = Risk. You have to take the risk on potential premium talents such as Buxton occasionally, but as stated by Brett above me, the Twins have an abundance of these toolsy players.

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    • Krog says:

      Who are these hypothetical 2/3 tool players with little projection?

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      • From recent drafts, the one that comes to mind is Mike Zunino. He doesn’t have Buxton’s ceiling, but he doesn’t require a ton of projection.

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        • YanksFanInBeantown says:

          Yeah, Zunino’s a can’t miss prospect, just like Dustin Ackley. It’s a good thing the Mariners took Ackley instead of going with one of those tools guys like the Angels did.

          Regardless, Zunino’s a four tool player, he’s got a great arm, plays good defense and hits for average and power. That’s why he was a top draft pick.

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        • I didn’t say that you couldn’t be successful drafting toolsy guys. However, using Mike Trout as a reason to draft toolsy high school guys makes about as much sense as saying every college righthander will turn into Roger Clemens.

          My point about Zunino was that he doesn’t have the same ceiling that Buxton has. In fact from his Baseball America draft report, “Zunino doesn’t wow scouts with tools.” As far as your comment about Ackley, I would say he’s been a better player than Donavan Tate, a toolsy outfielder that was picked directly after him. You can always find players to fit your argument. I was just saying that I would rather draft higher floor players with slightly lower ceilings than extremely high ceiling players with much lower floors.

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        • YanksFanInBeantown says:

          It’s about finding a balance between projection and safety. Rely too much on tools guys and you could end up like the Phillies with a bunch of athletes who can’t play baseball, rely too much on safety and you end up like the pre-Huntington Pirates with zero impact talent.

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