Throughout Major League Baseball history, great pairings like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, and, most recently, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez have transcended the game.
The Minnesota Twins may have the next great tandem on their hands in the form of top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. They are still years away from ascending to the level of those previous duos, but it's not insane to think they have the talent to get there.
Putting that much faith in two players whose combined age is 40—both Sano and Buxton are 20 years old—with no experience above Double-A has the potential to blow up in your face.
When you watch Buxton and Sano on the field, there is nothing they can't do. With their all-around capabilities, Buxton and Sano could end up being one of the great duos in baseball history.
But how do they stack up against a modern duo like Ortiz and Ramirez? Is it even fair to ask the question right now?
Let's look at how Ramirez and Ortiz stack up against Buxton and Sano as prospects, then see what Ramirez and Ortiz were able to do together in Boston, before answering those questions.
Ortiz and Ramirez Scouting Reports
Ramirez was dazzling scouts as an 18-year-old in April 1991, two months before he was drafted with the 13th pick by the Cleveland Indians.
Brian Collins' report on the right-handed slugger, featured on the Baseball Hall of Fame website, is fascinating to look back on. Here's a portion of what Collins wrote:
Best hitter I've ever scouted...Big time power...Best amateur I've ever scouted—if he stays healthy, will hit between (400-500) homers in M.L.
Imagine writing that about a high school kid. Ramirez went on to hit .312/.411/.585 with 547 doubles and 555 home runs in 19 MLB seasons. He also finished in the top 10 of MVP voting nine times, including eight consecutive years from 1998-2005.
Ortiz took a much different path to stardom than Ramirez, who was practically a finished product as soon as the Indians called him up late in 1993, but the end result has been largely the same.
Here's what the Seattle Times said about Ortiz, then known as David Arias, as a 20-year-old in Low-A during the 1996 season (via ESPN.com):
David Arias has stirred up a lot of excitement with his hitting for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
The young first baseman leads Seattle's Midwest League farm club in average (.331), hits (134), home runs (17), runs batted in (80), total bases (218) and runs scored (80).
Larry Beinfast (sic), Seattle Mariner player-development director, said Arias has worked hard and "gotten a lot stronger" since he was signed as a free agent in the Dominican Republic after the 1992 season. Baseball America recently rated Arias the Class A Midwest League's "most exciting player."
Ortiz would skyrocket through Minnesota's system, advancing all the way to the big leagues by the end of 1997. He broke the hamate bone in his right (follow-through) hand early in 1998, according to the ESPN story, which cost him a starting job in 1999, though he did hit 35 doubles and 30 homers in Triple-A that season.
While not as detailed a scouting report* as Ramirez's, it's obvious that Ortiz's talent was there at a very young age and, if not for the hand injury, he might have played most of his career in Minnesota.
*Unfortunately there are no scouting reports for Ortiz on the Baseball Hall of Fame website.
Buxton and Sano Scouting Reports
Buxton ranks as the No. 1 prospect in every preseason Top 100 list heading into 2014, including Bleacher Report Lead Prospect Writer Mike Rosenbaum's.
Here's a portion of Rosenbaum's scouting report on Buxton:
The 6’2”, 189-pounder has a tapered build with wiry strength; strong wrists; plus bat speed; effortless plus raw power; ridiculous quick-twitch muscles; approach and hit tool should continue to surpass expectations; advanced beyond his years; simple, compact stroke with a short bat path; maintains balance throughout swing...
Buxton is the most complete player of the four we are discussing, because he has elite speed and will play a premium position (center field) at a very high level. His power doesn't compare to Sano's, nor can he match what Ramirez did and Ortiz is doing.
He's still 20 and growing into his frame, with an eventual ceiling of 25-30 homers, but it's going to take time before we see that play in games.
Sano is lauded, first and foremost, for his ability to hit the ball really hard and really far. He's the best power hitter in the minors, boasting some of the best raw power in all of baseball at 20 years old.
On MLB.com's Top 100 list of prospects for 2014, Sano is ranked fourth (giving Minnesota two of the top four prospects in baseball), earning raves for how easy his power has translated to games at such a young age.
Sano has prodigious raw power and knows how to use it in games. He hit 35 home runs between Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain in 2013. With his power, however, comes a lot of swing and miss. He has struck out more than 140 times in both of his years in full-season ball.
If you combine Buxton's ability to hit for average and power with Sano's ability to draw walks and hit for power, the Twins have all the makings of an elite 3-4 pairing in the not-too-distant future.
Of course, with Joe Mauer signed through 2018, it's plausible that Buxton could end up hitting leadoff, with Mauer and Sano hitting third and fourth, respectively.
Assuming all things go as planned in 2014, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Twins follow the same path that Ramirez and Ortiz took to the big leagues, with a late-season call-up this season to get experience for full-time jobs next season.
Ramirez and Ortiz, Together As One
Now that we know what Ramirez and Ortiz were like as prospects, it's time to examine what they were able to do after joining forces in Boston starting in 2003.
Which prospect duo will have the best MLB future?
In their five-and-a-half seasons together, Ortiz and Ramirez combined to hit more than 30 homers and drive in more than 100 runs every year from 2003-06. Ortiz finished in the top five of MVP voting every year from 2004-07, while Ramirez was in the top six from 2003-05.
Oh yeah, they also played key roles in ending Boston's 86-year World Series drought. Ortiz was MVP of the 2004 American League Championship Series against New York, hitting .387/.457/.752 in seven games and getting game-winning hits in Games 4 and 5.
Not to be outdone, Ramirez was named MVP of the 2004 World Series against St. Louis after hitting .412/.500/.588 in the four-game sweep. Ortiz was no slouch in that series, posting a .308/.471/.615 line.
The duo also helped lead Boston to another championship in 2007. Ramirez hit .409/.563/.727 in the ALCS against Cleveland, but Josh Beckett's two dominant starts were enough to garner MVP honors. Ortiz hit .370/.508/.696 during that playoff run.
The only negative thing you can say about the Ortiz-Ramirez pairing is that it ended under such poor circumstances, leading to Ramirez's trade to Los Angeles at the deadline in July 2008.
Even Ortiz acknowledged during a radio interview (via ESPN.com) that the Ramirez situation had become toxic for everyone involved and that something had to change.
The Manny situation was a tough situation for the team, for us the teammates, for him as a player. He was trying to get to be out, everybody knows, it's not news, for the past few years and it was something that it was getting worse and worse and worse every year.
It should be pointed out that, despite some insistence Ramirez had "quit" on the Red Sox in 2008, he hit .299/.398/.529 in 100 games with the team, including a .347/.473/.587 mark in July.
Whatever the reasons for Ramirez and Boston parting ways, it can't take away from the years of dominance that he had alongside Ortiz in the middle of a lineup that won two championships.
The Epitome of Hyperbole
Whenever a potentially great duo comes along, all the pressure is on them to live up to that hype. Think back to January 2012, when the Tigers signed Prince Fielder to hit behind Miguel Cabrera, and the excitement about what that pair could do together.
Jayson Stark of ESPN.com wrote about how potent the Cabrera-Fielder duo would be in Detroit after Fielder agreed to a nine-year, $214 million contract.
Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hitting back to back? Whoa. They might not be Ruth and Gehrig, but it's quite a thought.
"You're talking about two guys who can carry a team," said one scout. "Just lethal. And from each side of the plate."
Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hitting back to back? It's also quite a spectacle. We're not talking about two Breeders Cup jockeys here, you know.
Cabrera and Fielder certainly hit well in their two years together, combining for 143 homers, 490 RBIs, and leading Detroit to one World Series appearance in 2012.
But the Tigers have already ripped that duo apart after just two years, trading Fielder to Texas for second baseman Ian Kinsler.
In Buxton and Sano, we are focusing on two players who have never played above Double-A like they can be in the same category as a duo like Ortiz and Ramirez.
It's a dangerous thing to talk about, especially since Ortiz and Ramirez have resumes that belong in Cooperstown one day, but based on every scouting report, first-hand looks and raw, natural ability, Buxton and Sano absolutely have what it takes to be that good.
What's even better is that Buxton and Sano appear to be on the same track, though Buxton is a little behind Sano, with a chance to play in Minnesota by the end of 2014. That will give them six full years in the big leagues to grow and develop together.
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