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Is Byron Buxton Still Elite?

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Byron Buxton was once the hottest prospect in baseball, but injuries and struggles have taken some of the shine off of the guy once considered to be the next big thing. Can he recover?

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Heading into the 2014 season Byron Buxton was considered the best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, but everything since then has gone downhill for Buxton. The five tool center fielder was once compared to Mike Trout for his skill set, but after the past couple years there are some questioning if he will ever be a significant contributor at the big league level.

Buxton has a documented injury history, a minor shoulder injury in 2013 being the beginning despite him not missing much time. It was in 2014 that the injuries started to pile up- a wrist injury headed into spring training, then a concussion suffered in an outfield collision upon his return from the wrist injury. He was limited to just 31 games in 2014 along with another 13 in the Arizona Fall League, but the injuries took their toll on him. Dropping his slash line of .334/.424/.520 from 2013 to .234/.307/.395 between High A and Double A. Then he topped it off with a broken finger in the Arizona Fall League as he tried to catch up for a mostly missed season.

Buxton began 2015 in Double A and took some time to shake off the rust of a mostly missed 2014 before finding himself again in May. He was then rushed to the big leagues by the Twins, and predictably struggled before going down for six weeks after just a handful of games with a thumb injury. After a rehab assignment Buxton got to finish the season back in the big leagues, where he managed to post an ugly .209/.250/.326 slash line over 138 plate appearances. He also dropped from 55 steals to just 6 in 2014,

There is some good news hidden in that ugly slash line, as he finished strong. Over his final 20 plate appearances Buxton hit .338/.368/.778 with a pair of doubles and a pair of homers. That could be a potential sign of the five tool athlete shaking off the rust from all of his missed time and finally getting healthy enough to produce at a high level heading into 2016.

It's also important to note the guy he was often compared to early in his career - Mike Trout. Trout may be the best player in the game today, but when he got called up in 2011 and hit .220/.281/.390 in 135 plate appearances, he too had some doubters. The circumstances of injury and lost time may be a little different, but both players have a similar skill set and reached the big leagues at a similar young age. I'm not saying Buxton will become Trout, but rather illustrating that even with elite five tool talent a young player could struggle in his first taste of the big leagues.

Conclusion

Despite everything that's gone on in the past few years, Buxton is still considered a prospect as he is yet to reach the amount of plate appearances needed to no longer be a rookie. He's still every bit the prospect he was heading into 2014, as he could hit for average and power numbers, while stealing bases and scoring runs. If anything he may actually come cheaper due to there being doubters who see others as the better prospects at this point.

Buxton may not emerge as a star this season, but I believe he will post solid numbers across the board and end up being a useful fantasy player in 2016 with more to come going forward. as long as he manages to stay healthy, the sky is the limit for a player with his natural ability.