The year of the top prospect continues with news that the Minnesota Twins have called up top prospect Byron Buxton to start today against the Texas Rangers. Buxton was drafted 2nd overall out of high school in 2012--behind recently promoted Carlos Correa--and did enough in rookie ball that year to put himself in the top 20 of each of the major offseason prospect lists. The next season, Buxton slugged 12 home runs across low- and high-A, while stealing 55 bags and exhibiting excellent plate discipline, elevating himself to super-prospect status and drawing (unfair) comparisons to Mike Trout.
After a 2014 that was mostly lost to injury, Buxton entered this season with something to prove. Although he remained the second-highest prospect in the game (only Baseball Prospectus had him ranked first overall), injuries to his wrist, brain, and finger have kept him off the field regularly enough that it was faith in his tools that kept him so close to the top.
While it seemed there was good chance that Buxton would make his debut sometime this season, a mid-June call-up--particularly one to a second place Twins club-- was not the most likely scenario. While Buxton will fill a short-term need in the outfield, the Twins will also look to the face of their minor league system to spark a team in the midst of a five-game losing streak in a crowded AL Central.
Offensively, Buxton has more than held his own in Chattanooga this season, where at 21 he's still 3 years younger than the average position player. He's accumulated 116 total bases--which is good for second-highest in the league--and struck out in just 19 percent of his plate appearances, while walking 10 percent of the time. He's hit more triples (12) than doubles (7), clubbed 6 HR, and stolen 20 bases in 22 attempts.
Like Buxton--who has logged just 271 Double-A plate PA--Correa experienced injury issues in his short minor league career, which limited him to just 246 PA in the high minors before his call-up. This week, Correa has mashed, hitting 2 HR in just 16 PA. But temper you expectations, as instant offensive impact should never be expected of a rookie so green. Lucky for the Twins, Buxton is a true 5-tool players and his with range and arm strength good enough to make him the top defensive minor league center fielder the past two seasons. These skills should make him an elite major league center fielder from his very first inning.
Buxton replaces an injured Aaron Hicks, who has seen the lion's share of time in center field for the Twins this season. Offensively, Hicks has been awful, posting a wRC+ of just 68. Add to that a career UZR of -9.1 over 1,431.1 innings and you've got one of the worst center fielders in the game. Will Buxton keep the surprising Twins in the playoff hunt? Only time will tell, but one thing seems certain, the Twins are a better team with him in the lineup.
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Matt Jackson is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score and a staff writer for Royals Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacksontaigu.