Comparing Top Hitting Prospect Byron Buxton to Andrew McCutchen
When the Minnesota Twins made Byron Buxton the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft, there was some idea about how good he could be in time. But no one expected him to vault to the top of every prospect list and become the new "It" star after one year.
In fact, with the huge jump by Buxton in 2013, the Twins now boast two of the 10 best prospects in baseball, with Miguel Sano not far behind.
But instead of just waxing poetic about Buxton for a few hundred words, since everyone has done that numerous times, I wanted to provide some context for what kind of player we are really talking about when we say he is a superstar.
Thinking about it, a few names popped into my head. Mike Trout is one who gets mentioned a lot in comparison—I've been guilty of it—but he doesn't really fit because their body types are completely different and figure to age in different ways.
I also thought about B.J. Upton, who has a similar frame to Buxton and was lauded coming out of high school as a dynamic five-tool talent and dominated the minors before Tampa Bay called him up as a 19-year-old in 2004.
But the more I went over things, one name kept coming back to me: Andrew McCutchen.
What better way to provide context for Buxton's development than examining him compared to the (likely) 2013 National League MVP?
The Physical Comparison
Athleticism is something that often gets overlooked when you are watching a baseball game. This is a specialized game, so how much do you really need in order to be a successful player?
Well, as we have seen over the last decade with a focus more on up-the-middle talent, a lot. Andrew McCutchen is oozing athleticism, which actually helps you notice him because on the surface a 5'10", 185-pound player isn't going to leap out at you.
But when you see him in the field and what he can do in the batter's box, McCutchen goes from being an obscure player to a tremendous, in-demand talent who gets taken 11th overall in a draft that will go down as one of the best in history (2005).
It also didn't hurt that McCutchen hit .709 with 16 home runs as a senior in high school.
Buxton is a different kind of animal. He has the ideal frame at 6'2" and 189 pounds for scouts and evaluators to drool over, boasting present skills with the kind of projection you want in a high school center fielder.
Just 19 years old, Buxton is already bigger than McCutchen. He has more raw athleticism and the baseball tools to support it.
One of the joys in watching a player develop is seeing the tools go from raw and a dream to actualizing on the field.
McCutchen, like Buxton (at least so far), never really had a long period of struggling in his development. He was drafted in 2005 and played 58 games between rookie ball and the short-season New York-Penn League, hitting .310/.419/.433 with 18 extra-base hits and 17 stolen bases.
He followed that up with a full-season debut as a 19-year-old, like Buxton, split between Low-A Hickory and Double-A Altoona by hitting .294/.359/.450 with 45 extra-base hits and 23 stolen bases. There were some minor dings, as he also struck out 111 times in 531 at-bats, but that's still a really strong ratio for a player that young in a full-season league.
In his preseason prospect rankings for 2007, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus (subscription required for full scouting report) had McCutchen ranked as the top prospect in the Pirates' system and said not even the team expected him to move as quickly as he did.
Dynamic power/speed combination with one of the quickest bats in the minor leagues and strength in wrists to hit 20-30 home runs annually in the big leagues. Has ability to take a walk, and plus-plus speed makes him dangerous on the basepaths as well. Outstanding defender in center field with a far-reaching range from gap to gap.
But it was the 2007 season that would prove pivotal in McCutchen's development. He was 20 years old starting in Double-A and hit just .258/.327/.383 in 118 games before earning a late-season promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis.
What is the future for Byron Buxton?
So why, in a season like that, did McCutchen get promoted at the end of the year?
The key point there is that McCutchen was getting beaten and had to make adjustments in order to get back to being the player everyone assumed he would become.
Every player is going to have moments where the game gets bigger than them. The great ones are able to figure out why, learn from it, adjust and take off. McCutchen was able to do that and wound up spending all of 2008 and some of 2009 in Triple-A before the Pirates called him up.
The final preseason scouting report for him as a minor leaguer from Keith Law of ESPN (insider subscription required) noted that, despite the Pirates rushing him up the ladder, McCutchen's bat speed was incredible, he was a plus-plus runner with plus defense in center, and there was more power to come once his legs were used properly.
Fast-forward four years, with the Pirates close to the playoffs and McCutchen an MVP candidate, and it's safe to say he figured out his swing and turned into the great all-around talent everyone predicted.
For Buxton, there is at least one more year of minor league development ahead before he brings his immense talents to Minnesota. So amid all the glowing reviews you are seeing for him now, just remember the first big leap, between High-A and Double-A, is still coming.
Those glowing reviews, though? There's a ton of them, and you can see how his skills stack up favorably against McCutchen's at the time of his development.
For instance, here is what B/R lead prospect writer Mike Rosenbaum said about Buxton in his midseason top 50 list where the Twins prospect was No. 1 overall.
The 6’2”, 189-pounder has tapered build with wiry strength; strong wrists; plus bat speed; above-average raw power potential; ridiculous quick-twitch muscles. Approach and hit tool have been better than expected; advanced beyond his years. Simple, compact stroke with a short bat path; maintains balance throughout swing; works to achieve favorable point of contact; showcases effortless ability to explode through the baseball.
Plus-plus speed gives him excellent range. Lock to remain in center field; plus arm strength is more than enough for the position. Above-average defensive profile in center; reads and routes have improved...
You can see some things in the swings that are very similar, as well as where the wrist power comes from.
Look at both swings slowed down. Neither player uses much of a leg kick or load—starting your hands and body back before coming towards the plate—to generate power. But you can see through the videos how the hands and wrists carry the bat head through the zone. They are able to finish with great loft to drive the ball in the air.
There are going to be differences in the way these two play. Buxton makes everything look so easy and smooth, while McCutchen's effort is on full display with every pitch. Yet both players make it work for them.
Buxton is rated higher as a prospect now than McCutchen ever was because his plate discipline, approach and defense are more advanced at 19 than McCutchen's was (or ever would be coming up).
In addition, Buxton has a bit more speed and is a more polished defensive player. He still takes crude routes to some balls, but he reads the bat off the ball well and is capable of adjusting even when it looks like he's misplayed something.
We have seen what McCutchen turned into: a back-to-back legitimate MVP candidate and one of the best players in baseball. His defense in center field is rated higher now than it ever was, suggesting an evolution to his game that put in place the one missing piece preventing him from being a star to being elite.
Will that be what Buxton is? It certainly appears that he is on his way. You can't read anyone who has said a negative word about him, nor should you try to. What he did in 2013 was a remarkable feat and makes him more than deserving of the hype.
I don't want to say that Buxton can be as valuable as, say, Mike Trout, because what Trout is doing is insane and something we haven't seen from a player since Barry Bonds in his prime.
And there is nothing at all wrong with saying that Andrew McCutchen is Buxton's ceiling. That still makes him one of the four or five best players in baseball. He could turn into a generational talent, but that's not something anyone can accurately and realistically project.
If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments.
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