The highly-anticipated commencement of Major League Baseball’s 2012 first-year player draft is finally over, with the first round and supplemental first round of action set to take place tonight at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.
One of the biggest storyline surrounding this year’s Draft has been the clear lack of positional talent from collegiate-level prospects and the profuse abundance of high school positional players. This year’s class boasts a myriad of talented prepster that teams are likely to jump on in the early goings of the first round. Leading that crop is 18-year-old outfielder Byron Buxton—quite possibly the draft’s most intriguing prospect.
Hailing from Appling County High School (Ga.), Buxton has long been credited for having the most helium of any prospect of this year’s class — and for good reason. The 6’2″, 190-pound Georgia University commit has all the tools in the toolbox necessary to become a smash-hit at the big league level. He’s shown the capacity to hit for average and power, use his tremendous speed and athleticism whenever needed and flash a strong arm from the outfield when necessary. Buxton’s makeup has drawn comparisons to Tampa Bay Rays outfielder B.J. Upton.
But when it comes to drafting toolsy high schoolers, there’s always a great deal of risk involved — especially when the player is projected to be a surefire top-five pick. Many former prepsters have failed to pan out and reach their potential on the diamond, whether it be because they’re pushed through a system too fast or professional pitching simply overwhelms them from the get-go.
Regardless, Buxton clearly looks like a lock to go in the top-three. The question many are now asking is how his career could pan out. Here’s a shortened look at how the career of the 2012 draft’s most intriguing player might look like.
Ability to hit for power, average
Easily the most noticeable characteristic to Buxton’s game is his bat, which has a chance to be a lethal weapon at the big league level.
While he hasn’t flashed his power-potential in the form of home runs that much this spring, his power has revealed itself consistently at recent showcases around the country. Buxton finished second only to fellow prep outfielder Lewis Brinson in last year at Wrigley field at the Under Armour All America Game.
From a mechanical standpoint, Buxton has an advanced approach at the plate. He has some of the quickest, strongest hands of any hitter featured in this year’s class and absolutely crushes fastballs to all fields on a consistent basis. That said, he still has some room for improvement with offspeed pitches. Connor Glassey of Baseball America says that Buxton will “have to adjust to quality pitching, especially breaking balls. But as an amateur, he’s shown the ability to sit back on offspeed pitches and hit them with authority the other way.”
Given his already advanced approach at the plate and ability to make hard contact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he develops into a 20-25 home run each year type of hitter at the next level. More realistically, I’d say he’s got what it takes to hit 15-20 home runs on a yearly basis in the bigs.
Defense, Arm Strength
For as much attention as Buxton’s bat will receive as his career gets started, it’s his defensive aptitude that should get equal if more attention.
With quite possibly the Draft’s quickest feet, Buxton covers a ton of ground in the outfield. The bulk of his experience during his high school career has come as a center fielder, though if the team that drafts him has a cornerstone centerfielder already in place, it wouldn’t be surprising if they groom him to play a outfield corner position.
Aside from his ability to cover, as one scout described it, “acres of ground” in center field, Buxton also boasts one of the strongest and most accurate arms of any player in the Draft. He shown to have great accuracy as an outfield arm and, as B/R’s Mike Rosenbaum cites, “has been clocked regularly in the low-90s with plenty of carry.”
Considering his tremendous range and arm strength from the outfield, I’d say he has the makeup to be one of the best defenders in baseball — essentially a highlight-reel waiting to happen.
Arguably the most athletically gifted player featured in this year’s class, Buxton consequently possesses deadly speed that he utilizes both in center field and on the bases.
Scouts have raved over Buxton’s speed since his freshman year in high school. Baseball America’s scouts had this to say about Buxton’s elite agility:
“Buxton’s speed plays more presently, as he steals bases easily and covers acres of ground in center field. Some scouts have given him top-of-the-scale grades for both his speed (others call it well above-average) and at times for his throwing arm.”
It should be interesting to see how Buxton’s quickness and subsequent success on the bases translates to professional ball, where catchers will much more advanced compared to those he faced in high school. However, seldom do scouts describe a player’s ability to steal bases as “easy”. With some time in the minors, I’d say Buxton will have enough haste to tally 35-40 stolen bases per season in the bigs.
In a rather shallow Draft class devoid of any real transcendent talent, Buxton has separated himself from the pack in that he clearly has the most big-league potential.
His quick, strong hands provide consistent power with a lot of room to grow. Throw in the fact that his unparalleled speed allows him to cover a ton of ground in the outfield as well as steal bases, and Buxton has the makings of a legitimate five-tool prospect.
This summer, the Milwaukee Brewers find themselves in a tough spot.
Traditionally a team that looks to acquire talent at the July 31 trade deadline in preparation for post-All Start game push toward the postseason, the Brewers — who currently find themselves at fourth place in the NL Central, six and a half games behind the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals — could find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum come July if they aren’t able to make headway on the rest of the competition. If that’s the case, then there’s a real possibility for Zack Greinke to become available.
Scheduled to hit the market as an unrestricted free-agent this winter, Grienke has enjoyed a tremendous 2012 campaign. In 11 starts, the 28-year-old boasts a 3.46 ERA (2.04 FIP), 1.32 WHIP while striking out over 25 percent of the competition. His dominance has directly affected his free-agent value, leading many to believe that the Brewers aren’t likely to re-sign him at the end of the season.
There are plenty of reasons as to why the Brewers should be inclined to deal away their unquestioned ace at or before the July 31 trade deadline, but here are the five most important.
Greinke’s Talents Are in High Demand
Greinke’s preponderance this season has been truly astounding. Aside from the basic statistics I mentioned earlier, Milwaukee’s apparent ace has posted some pretty impressive sabermetric statistics.
Just to name a few, Grienke has improved his LOB% (left on-base percentage) from 69.8% in 2011 to an impressive 72.1% this season. He’s also increased his GB% (ground-ball percentage) from 47.3 % to a career-best 51.9% and has also boosted his IFFB% (infield fly-ball percentage) from five percent last season to a career-mark of 12.8%.
Throw in the fact that Grienke holds true to a 2.4 WAR (wins above replacement) that ranks best among all National League starters, and it’s easy to see why Grienke’s talents are in such high demand this season. The Brewers should act on his widely unparalleled production this season by dealing him this summer to a pitching-needy contender.
Greinke’s Tremendous Value Presents Unique Chance to Restock the Farm
The Brewers came into the 2012 season with one of the most shallow farm systems in baseball, with only a handful of youngsters with any real hope of making an impact for Ron Roenicke in the near future. While improvements have been made, they still have a long way to go before they can return to the upper-echelon of minor league systems.
If there’s anything to be learned from recent blockbuster trades, it’s that there is much young talent to be had. Given the fact that Greinke has been, well, the single most valuable starter in the National League thus far this season, I’d say there’s a legitimate chance for the Brewers to pick up a few solid youngsters from a desperate contender.
With the MLB Draft this week and the trade deadline approaching, Milwaukee has a unique chance to re-tool their farm system. Opportunities such as that don’t come around a whole lot, so the Brewers should act on Greinke’s value now in preparation for the imminent and distant future.
If Resigned, Shaun Marcum Would Be a Solid No. 2
In the event that Greinke were to be dealt away this summer, it would all but guarantee a re-signing of Shaun Marcum this winter. While Marcum is no Greinke, he certainly wouldn’t be a much of a downgrade.
From a production standpoint, the 30-year-old grizzled veteran righty is in the midst of one of his best seasons. Generally not known for his strikeout capacities, he’s upped his strikeout rate from 19.2% in 2011 to an impressive 23.1% this season. Moreover, Marcum has increased his LOB% nearly two points from last season — up to a very solid 75.1%.
No one will argue that Marcum is as complete a pitcher as Greinke is based off an all-things-considered production standpoint. However, given the fact that he isn’t likely to demand as much money as Greinke this offseason, his overall value as Milwaukee’s No. 2 starter wouldn’t be tremendously lower than Greinke’s.
Matt Cain’s Extension Puts Brewers in Tough Spot
When the San Francisco Giants made 27-year-old Matt Cain the richest right-hander in MLB history by signing him to a six-year, $127.5 Million contract extension through the 2016 season, it immediately put the Brewers in a situation they probably didn’t want to be in.
Many have speculated that the deal would set precedent for Greinke, another decorated right-hander, once he hits the free-agent market this winter. Already recuperating from the loss of Prince Fielder last winter, a small-market team such as the Brewers with a ton of contractual money committed toward next year isn’t likely to have the dough necessary to sign Greinke after Cain’s extension.
Owner Mark Attanasio may want to try to re-sign Greinke this winter, but it would be in the best interest of the franchise if he tried to deal him away at or near the July 31 trade deadline. Shelling out that kind of money can hamper an organization for years.
Are the Playoffs Really Within Reach?
The Brewers have been one of the more aggressive teams in the trade market over the past few seasons, and that in large part comes from the fact that they’ve been in the hunt for a playoff berth more often than not. This season, that isn’t the case. In fact, it’s far from it.
At this point last season, Ron Roenicke and company boasted a 31-26 record (including an MLB-best .750 winning percentage at Miller Park), just two games back of first place in the division. Their offense was raking at a World Series-caliber level and they were able to get some pretty good outings from their starters and relievers.
After Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Brewers now find themselves at 24-30, six and a half games out of first place. They’ve received mediocre production out of the cleanup spot in the lineup — unlike last season — and have gotten unstable and often unpredictable outings from their starters and bullpen.
According to ESPN.com, the Brewers have roughly an 11 percent chance at making the postseason, which ranks fifth-worst among all National League clubs. Anything is possible, especially in baseball, but ask yourself this question: Are the playoffs really within reach? If not, it’s only more incentive to deal Greinke.