Monday, August 15, 2016

Kepler Versus Buxton Has Become No Contest

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
In the prospect ranking department there are always players that fall slip through the cracks. For instance, take a look at Brian Dozier. As Nick wrote about on Monday, Dozier hit a combined total of 16 home runs over 1,600 plate appearances in the minors.

Needless to say, Dozier was never featured on any national top 100 prospect lists before evolving into possibly the best power hitting second baseman in the game. Sometimes prospects slip through the cracks before putting it all together and other times great prospects fail.

The Twins currently have an interesting situation unfolding with two young players. Byron Buxton was touted as one of the best prospects in the game after the Twins made him the second overall selection. In fact, he has been ranked as the first or second best prospect each of the last three seasons by Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus.

Like Dozier before him, Max Kepler has been a very different story in the prospect world. The 23-year old has moved slowly through the Twins system in the seven years since he signed. It wasn't until last season when he made his presence known. He hit .322/.416/.531 with 54 extra-base hits on the way to being named the Southern League MVP.

National prospect list took note of Kepler's breakout campaign and he found himself sprinkled on multiple lists entering this season. Baseball American had him 30th, MLB.com had him 44th, and Baseball Prospectus had him all the way back at 66th. Not nearly as high as Buxton but that's not how these rankings are put together.

Kepler already has more home runs this season than his last two minor league seasons combined. He's getting on base over 33% of the time and his .508 slugging percentage ranks second among rookies in the American League. He is establishing himself as one of the best hitters in the Twins line-up while continually being penciled into the middle of the order.

Meanwhile, Buxton's struggles have been well documented during his big league tenure. Pitchers are constantly getting ahead of him and Buxton has a 36.7 K%. He's now toiling at Rochester where he has slugged .982 this season while Kepler continues to thrive in Minnesota.

Kepler's performance has been clearly superior to Buxton and that can show why prospect lists are fickle. Buxton could eventually put it all together and be the five-tool player most thought he would become.

Kepler versus Buxton might be no contest for now but Twins fans should be patient. No matter what the results are now, both players are going to need to perform well for the Twins to return to their former glory.

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