As Jason Parks noted in his prospect rankings primer, this year’s rankings are the product of a collaborative process. Before each system’s prospect list is finalized, members of the BP prospect team trade emails about the players involved, enriching the rankings with their own opinions and perspectives. We’ll be publishing excerpts from the best of those discussions throughout the offseason, generally the day after the prospect lists in question appear. Some exchanges have been edited for language or trimmed to stay on topic.
Chris Mellen: I like [Byron] Buxton over [Miguel] Sano. I think Buxton is going to need time to marinate offensively and it could be a slow process in the early career, but all of the tools are there for him develop into an above-average major leaguer. He's extremely graceful in center field, with the look of a natural at the position, gets excellent reads off the bat, and has an extra gear of closing speed. I did not see him unleash the arm, but my trusted scouts down at Instructs told me it’s plus. I got him as a future 60 defender and maybe more. There's leverage in the swing, with explosive hands that generate plus-to-better bat speed. The long poles are presently a very crude approach and pitch recognition. High risk for sure due to the development time in front of him. Buxton's going to need time to figure out his strike zone and build his base through repetition, but I think he's got the hit tool to push as a .300 hitter. I've got the power at about 20 home runs. Speed graded for me as a 70 and there was chatter that times were close to 80. He's an outstanding athlete scratching the surface as a baseball player.
Sano has the potential to be very one dimensional. I don't see him sticking at third base as he is rough, slow with the reads, and his feet stay stuck in the mud. The arm is plus so maybe the outfield is where he goes over first base. The power is off the charts, but he's very long-armed and I'm not sure he's going to be able to be the type of hitter than can consistently keep his hands inside of the ball against good pitching. He extends early, as a lot of big power guys do, and the hot zone is fastballs middle-to-away. He'll crush ones in that spot. I think he's got a good chance to be a major leaguer and do some things to make a good living, but we could be talking about more of a mistake hitter and lower contact guy. I find it hard to peg the hit tool presently and projecting off what I saw, he’ll have to make a lot of adjustments to consistently hit merciless major-league pitching. I'm interested in the feedback on him.
Jason Parks: I really want to make a case for Sano over Buxton, but you make very good points, Chris. I'm a sucker for a power bat, and the minors aren't exactly full of them anymore. Sano's raw is impressive, but you are right that he is more of a one-dimensional player, whereas Buxton has loud tools at a premium spot. It's close for me.
Nick Faleris: I think Buxton over Sano is the correct call, though my hope is that Sano wakes up defensively and shows he can stick at 3B. I think the two are very close. Also, if you profile Sano to RF he might rate better than he currently does at third (though I think there's enough life in the lower-half for him to become solid at 3B if he is willing to put in the work). Just an addendum to Chris' write-up—Buxton is definitely a 65/70 arm and 70/75 speed. Body structure is what gets me—built like someone who will hang some muscle without losing speed (long, easy strides). I am less bullish on the power, but he could be a 6/5 avg/power guy with above-average defense in CF (eventually) and some baserunning value. Like Dahl, Buxton gives some of his speed away because of his first step, but he's a lot of fun to watch because he covers so much ground so easily. I think he's a fair ways away, and even though I'd advocate him above Sano, it's the type of selection that may take two years to justify. I think Sano will continue to put up big numbers; Buxton may take some lumps next year.
Hudson Belinsky: I'm also a fan of Buxton over Sano. Say each of them falls one notch below their ceiling. Buxton is still a monster, while Sano is a Russell Branyan type—fine player, but not finer than a Gold Glove CF with limited offense.
I've had multiple tell me things about Sano like, "You just hope the hit tool can be average," with very little encouraging talk of that actually happening. As of the end of the season, he was still looking lost against advanced secondary offerings. There are some optimists about his defense at third, but who knows how the body will adapt to the muscle that's on its way. Even if he sticks at third, he won't be average there.
We haven't had enough time to see if Buxton can really hit, but he's a 7 runner with excellent instincts in center and a plus arm. Fluid athlete, power is on its way. If he turns out to be a .240 hitter, he's still going to add plenty of value. But if he hits in the .270 range, he's a monster.
Mark Anderson: I prefer Sano to Buxton, but only by a small margin. I respect the tools that Buxton presents and his up-the-middle profile, but there are just so, so few true monster power bats in the minor leagues that Sano is a unique and potentially devastating guy. Even if he hits .250, he's still a middle-of-the order threat that can crank 30-plus bombs. If the pitch recognition comes even a little bit from where it's at right now, he's suddenly a serious force. I'm slightly more optimistic about him at third base than most. It's not pretty, but I think it can work in a weird, Miguel Cabrera sort of way. I'd go Sano over Buxton, but it's not by a ton. I'm also a big advocate of Hicks in the #3 spot on this list. His tools are obvious and after seeing him for 17 games this summer, there was legitimate progress made in actualizing some of those tools in game situations. His approach wasn't as passive this year, and he actually looked eager to swing the bat and be aggressive at times. He has the knowledge of the strike and pitch recognition for the bat to play at a plus level with pop, speed, and serious defense. I love the profile and if we're going to push Buxton because of the up-the-middle profile, I think Hicks deserves the same fate over someone like Arcia.
JP: I think it’s very difficult to compare a power-hitting corner bat (either at third or in right) with three pro seasons under his belt with a five-tool center fielder that was just taken in the draft. It's tough. You have to love Buxton's skill-set, and if everything clicks, his value to a major-league team will be enormous. But I keep coming back to something Mark said, and something we've echoed before. Legit power bats have become rare breeds in the minors, as the personnel of the game slowly change. Skill players are more common now, which isn't to say they are superfluous or the norm; rather, the five-tool profile is no longer a unicorn that only a few teams can posses. Power bats, those with 30-plus-bomb potential, are scarce, and Sano might be the best of the remaining few in the minors.
Yes; the hit tool might only play at average; it might play higher or lower, but you will find a steady stream of evaluators suggesting average is fair. The approach is both good and bad; the latter could cost his hit and power a grade at maturity if he doesn't learn to shorten up and stay in his hitting box; the former allows for some OBP ability and adds a dimension to his offensive game. The raw is ridiculous. It's game changing. It's lineup changing. He hit 60 extra-base hits (28 homers) in the Midwest league at age 19. So you have both potential and production, and when you factor in his impact tool, the total package looks special to me.
NF: I think that's a fair assessment. I don't remember if I responded to you or to the group when I stated putting Buxton over Sano requires you to project two years ahead. I believe Sano will continue to put up big numbers next year while Buxton will likely take some shots (he really hasn't faced advanced stuff, be it on the circuit or as a high schooler). I also think Buxton's reads in center are still way behind where they need to be for him to realize his defensive potential. That said, I would be fine with being aggressive with Buxton's rankings based on the fact that he has received glowing reports as to work ethic and the improvements he has started to make at the pro level. The safer bet is to go with Sano at #1 overall, I think, as he's more likely to justify the ranking next year. Based on tools, I think I'd probably still opt for Buxton even if it takes two years for that to look like a smart decision.
NF: One more note: I understand the dearth of power bats makes Sano's power that much more impressive when stacked against other corners. I think the overall lack of power bats should absolutely raise value of that tool at the amateur acquisition level, but I'm not convinced it should add weight at the prospect level. Ultimately, we are still talking about production in the aggregate. Sano's power is elite, but his baserunning and defense are both subpar and will likely provide negative value at the MLB level. Additionally, there is at least a question as to how the hit tool ultimately develops (be it a 4 or 5, say). So when we project out ultimate production we are potentially talking about the power tool being 85 percent of his value generation, and needing to account for negative value his baserunning and defense are likely to hang on him. Buxton, while riskier from a track record standpoint, has the potential to earn value all over the field. I think he ends up between a 5/6 defender with potential for added value in the field due to arm strength (which is a high-6/7) and potential for kills/assists. I don't believe the power emerges as impact, but it can be solid. The hit tool can be developed into potentially above-average to plus. He's a 7/high-7 runner and has supposedly already made good strides in learning the finer points of baserunning. In short, he has a chance to be an impact player across the board. I guess I just wanted to point out specifically that we are talking about 1.5 tools with Sano and 5 with Buxton, with Sano likely earning negative value in the field and on the bases while Buxton's biggest negative value is really the risk that the bat doesn't develop.
JP: All good points. Buxton's skill-set puts him in a position to offer more value at maturity. No question about that. Knowing this, I'm still enamored with power. For me, power is the back of a woman's neck, a dress strap slightly pulled off the shoulder, a picture of Tom Verducci on a bearskin rug. It's sexy. I fall for it every time. It's either a glitch in my evaluation system or a poison I must ingest. Despite being a sucker for tools as well, give me that one impact tool that has a chance to be elite and I'll follow you into tomorrow.
I'm not sure if Sano's raw can play at elite, and I'm not sure his value outside of the bat leaves much to be desired. But not many prospects have a realistic chance to hit 30-plus bombs at the highest level, and I'm still smitten with that possibility. That allure could fade and fade quickly if the swing-and-miss overwhelms the profile, and the reality of what is left standing won't be too pretty. But in this particular moment, I'm still taking long showers with the door locked with Sano's power. Maybe it’s just a teenaged fad.
NF: To be clear, it's not just a question of more value at maturity. It's also a question of greater opportunity to provide value in some form regardless of setbacks. I'd equate it to Sano having one scratch-off ticket that could win him between $0-20 and Buxton having five that could earn him $0-8 a piece (obviously that is meant to be illustrative, and not a precise analysis).
JP: Sure. Understand completely. It's a good point. But those tools (or scratch-off numbers) don't have equal weight. Not that I'm suggesting Buxton can't or won't hit, but it's not a given that his offensive tools will mature enough to allow his ancillary tools a chance to provide value. If his bat is only average, yes, he (unlike Sano), will offer more to a team because of his defensive profile and catalytic speed. That's a high floor. But the pressure is still on his bat to at least reach that moderate level of utility. If you believe in Buxton's bat, this is really an easy choice. I'm just not sure if I believe in the bat yet because I haven’t seen enough of it. That's probably my biggest issue: familiarity.
JP: After reading all your thoughts, and trying to keep my power bias out of the equation, I started working the phones. I spoke with [redacted] and the vote was 6-0 in favor of Buxton. Sano received praise for the power potential, and game-changing power was mentioned more than once. Buxton was called the most electric player in the draft; his ceiling was compared to Matt Kemp; his power projection praised; his overall tool-package slobbered on. “We have the scouting to back up the claim that Buxton might be the most talented player in the minors. We are fully on board with that belief. But we don't know what he's going to look like before it happens. He could stumble. We have a good idea what the end result is, though. It's special."
Passing this along. I have to say, I'm starting to warm up to the idea of Buxton ahead of Sano. I love power and that isn't going to change. But I also love ceiling and I love tools, and you have to trust the evaluations of those that you trust. Buxton's limited professional record vs. Sano's production is the only thing sticking with me right now. This isn't a “highest ceiling” list, but when scouts throw 7s on the future role like its nothing, it makes you think.
Jason Churchill: Adding to that—I know of two scouting directors that much prefer to draft college players when selecting top five—they have never drafted a prep player in the top 10—and if they had the chance to draft 1-1 they both would have taken Buxton and paid him 90 percent of their entire budget to get the deal done.
Buxton could easily develop Adam Jones, Mike Cameron power, too. Even if we assume to a 75 percent certainty rate that Sano is a .270 hitter with 30 homers and limited defensive value, would you trade that for the 25 percent chance that Buxton is Adam Jones at the plate and average to plus in the field? I would.