Most baseball fans are familiar with the phrase "Three True Outcomes". The term refers to walks, strike outs and home runs. These outcomes are "true" in that they pit the pitcher against the batter, largely independent of outside factors like defense or the speed of the batter. When ball four is awarded to the batter, it is a certainty that he will be reaching first base.
When it comes to prospects, certainties do not exist. Every prospect has a wide range of outcomes between their ceiling and floor potential, with most players settling somewhere in between the two. I like to think of prospect outcomes as the Dream (the player's ceiling), the Nightmare (the player's floor) and the Reality (weighing all the factors to come up with the most likely outcome). In today's article, we take a look at the Three (Possibly) True Outcomes for the second overall pick in the 2012 draft, Minnesota Twins' outfielder Byron Buxton.
Many experts considered Buxton the top prospect in the 2012 draft class. He is a premium athlete and a true 5-tool talent. Those tools are among the loudest in the minor leagues, all grading out as 60s or better (on the 20-80 scale) in the future. Some scouts have even put 80 grades on both his running speed, and arm strength (he was consistently clocked between 90-93 mph as a pitcher in high school), yet the excitement is still built around his offensive potential. Although he hit just 2 home runs in his senior season, Buxton has elite bat speed and a frame that should fill out as he continues to develop, both signs of future power. He also displays big raw power in batting practice, finishing second in the home run derby at the Under Armour All-American Game held at Wrigley Field last year. Buxton's game has been compared with outfielders like Matt Kemp, Andrew McCutchen, the Upton brothers, and Eric Davis, lofty company for a high school draft pick. Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks said Buxton will be, "one of the best players in the game if he reaches his potential" and an unnamed scout told Baseball America that "He's a player where you have no concerns about him reaching his ceiling. He projects to be at least a 60 hitter with 60 power because he makes consistent hard contact." The praise for Buxton may sound like hyperbole, but there are only a handful of prospects that are even mentioned in the same breath as Buxton in terms of ceiling. And the thing to really love about Buxton is that everything he does on the baseball field looks effortless, making it seem realistic that he can surpass even the loftiest of expectations.
Ceiling Fantasy Line: .296 average, 28 home runs, 123 runs, 82 RBI, 71 stolen bases
Despite his wonderful future grade, Buxton has a large gap between his present and future projections. There is little concern that he will become a very good centerfielder with plus range and a plus arm, but nearly every scouting report on him at least questions if the bat will develop. He has been noted as displaying an immature approach at the plate, and both Keith Law and Kiley McDaniel of ESPN have concerns about his hitting mechanics. Often times his back foot is actually off the ground at contact, a trait that is similar to Frank Thomas. Unfortunately for Buxton, he is nowhere near as strong as The Big Hurt, so it can throw his swing path off and disrupt his timing. Just look at the results in the GCL and Appalachian League last year. Buxton hit .248/.344/.448, showing off a little of his real Three True Outcome potential. He did hit 5 home runs and steal 11 bases, and I am well aware it was a small sample size, but the numbers are a little underwhelming for a prospect of this magnitude. At the same age, B. J. Upton split the season between Low-A and Double-A, hitting .297/.390/.431 and stealing 40 bases. Upton also reached the big leagues at 19 years old, while Buxton will likely spend his entire age-19 season at Low-A. Buxton's age worries me, because he was not young by any stretch for a high school pick. Baseball Prospectus' Rany Jazayerli did a wonderful study (Part 1, Part 2) on the relationship between age of a draft pick and their future major league value, and the results are staggering. If he is going to develop into a superstar his bat needs to take a large step forward this season. If the bat doesn't come around, Buxton may just be another glove first centerfielder who leaves us always wanting more.
Floor Fantasy Line: .251 average, 8 home runs, 68 runs, 45 RBI, 29 stolen bases
Look at those comps again and you can see why it is easy to get lost in the Dream with Byron Buxton. That ceiling alone pushes him near the top of any fantasy prospects lists, but the concerns about his hit tool and his dismal performance last year give me real pause when projecting him going forward. I just don't see a .290 hitter or 25+ home run power unless he makes drastic changes to his approach and his swing. It also seems likely that as his frame continues to add weight; his speed will decrease slightly, lowering his stolen base potential in the process. I feel strongly that Buxton will develop into a Gold-Glove caliber centerfielder, which will give him extra opportunities to develop his bat at the big league level. By all accounts he is also a very hard worker and extremely coachable, the kind of attributes that will allow him to deal with failure at the higher levels and continue to improve. I don't think Buxton will become a fantasy superstar, but I think he becomes Carl Crawford-lite, and a player who will give you 5-category production in the early rounds.
Fantasy Line: .272 average, 14 home runs, 89 runs, 68 RBI, 36 stolen bases