Monday, May 2, 2016

What's Next For Byron Buxton?

Photo Credit: Benny Sieu, USA Today Sports
Not all prospects pan out. That's just the nature of the game. Baseball can be a cruel and challenging journey but that's why so many people love this sport. The unknown is always around the game. On any given night, a player whose name you've never heard could make history and that history is deep rooted and transcends generations.

Byron Buxton was supposed to make his own history. He was a can't miss prospect with the potential to follow in the footsteps of current All-Stars like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Things haven't gone exactly to plan for Buxton and the idea starts to trickle in that the Twins might have been a little too aggressive with their budding star.

Minnesota's top prospect was demoted a little over a week ago. His Triple-A results have mirrored his big league results as he is striking out too often and not getting on base enough. There has been a little bit more power, three extra-base hits and a .608 OPS, but these numbers aren't going to make the Twins come calling in the immediate future.

Over the last two seasons at the big league level, Buxton has a total of 187 plate appearance and 174 at-bats with 15 extra-base hits. One of the most concerning issues has been his strikeout totals. He has 68 combined strikeouts so he struck out in 36.4% of his plate appearances. Speed is one of his biggest tools but he's only getting on base 23.9% of the time so it's hard to utilize this tool.

What's Next For Byron Buxton?

Buxton has plenty to prove in the minors before the Twins are  willing to give him another shot at baseball's highest level. Buxton doesn't even have 100 at-bats at the Triple-A level under his belt so there is still things for him to focus on as he prepares for another big league opportunity.

Strikeouts
Out of players with a minimum of 40 plate appearances in 2016, Buxton's 49.0 K% is the highest in the big leagues. Since he has been in Rochester, he has improved his K% slightly to 32.4% but it's still much too high. Seeing better pitching on a daily basis has been tough for Buxton. He is going to have to learn how to make the appropriate adjustments. When he was drafted, there were some that questioned the level of competition he was facing in rural Georgia. For now, he needs to do a better job of recognizing pitches and working counts in his favor.

On-Base Percentage
Besides strikeouts, one of the biggest areas of concern has been Buxton's inability to get on base at a consistent clip. If he wants to be able to showcase his blazing speed, he needs to find a way to make more consistent contact and get on base. During the 2015 season at Double-A and Triple-A, Buxton hit over .300 and got on base 36.7% of the time. Those numbers would be great but with each movement up the ladder there have been new struggles . He's still almost five years younger than the competition in the International League but it can be frustrating to think that some of the best young players in the game were already finding big league success in their age-22 season.

Steals
Buxton stole a remarkable 55 bases in 2013 while being caught 19 times between Low-A and High-A. In his injury plagued 2014 season (31 games), he swiped six bases and was caught twice. Last season, Buxton played over 100 games and was only caught stealing five times but he was also limited to 24 steals. At baseball's highest levels, the pitchers have better pick-off moves and the catchers have stronger arms. Stealing bases is an art form and it could be one of the most valuable pieces of Buxton's game if he can find the right balance on the base paths.

Is Buxton a bust as a prospect? Only time will tell at this point. There is plenty of baseball left in his career and he will have other opportunities at the MLB level. He will need to make a significant reduction in his strikeout percentage while making more consistent contact and using his speed as a weapon on the bases.

This might sound like a lot but he's a young man with all the tools in the world. It's his turn to prove to the organization that he can be the player that all of the baseball world claims he should be.

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