Debating the stature and status of prospects is my chosen field and, for many of us, our chosen passion. We compare and contrast at every developmental turn, putting our various forms of magnification to work with every box score, every scouting report, and every opportunity to get close to the action. Not only is the value of Player A as it relates to that of Player B a fascinating exercise for the novice and industry veteran alike, but the establishment of present and future value helps form the skeleton structure of this particular commodities market.
Last fall, the Baseball Prospectus prospect team engaged in our most fervent debate of the offseason, when Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton battled for prospect supremacy in a talent-rich Twins system. The brilliance of the debate was that a defendable case could be made for each, and at the time I teetered back and forth in my conclusions like a drunk walking the yellow stripe. Do you like the five-tool high school kid with up-the-middle skills and loudspeaker athleticism or one of the better power bats to come out of the Latin American market in recent memory, a potential middle-of-the-order power behemoth? Revisiting the debate is intoxicating and my equilibrium is once again on the tilt.
The 2013 season hasn’t made the debate any easier, as Buxton has exploded in his full-season debut and Sano is doing violent things to baseballs in the Florida State League. The preferred hypothetical when it comes to value assessment and debate is the “If you could only have one in your system, which one are you choosing and why?” At this point in the season, this is the best one-two prospect punch in the minors, with each moving up into the rarified air of the top 10 talents in the game. I decided to ask 20 industry sources—ranging from scouts on the ground to general managers—which member of the dynamic duo they would rather have in their own farm system. What was anticipated to be a tight race turned out to be a landslide. Buxton in a blowout.
Industry vote: 18-2 in favor of Buxton.
A few money quotes
“I would take Buxton (as I told you last year). He's about as close to Mike Trout as there is out there right now, a true five-tool CF with so many weapons and ways he can beat you. I like Sano, and think he will have big power, but I wonder about the body and his future position. Both are top-25 prospects, but you could make a case that Buxton is the best prospect in all of baseball.”
“I'd take Buxton. Middle of the field player…..impact on both sides of the ball. Will probably age better and have more longevity. I think Sano will have more immediate wow factor and contribute faster, but Buxton would win the long-term race. Hard to argue either way and I love the exercise, but I'm taking the athlete who contributes in every facet of the game. It would put me in the fetal position to pass on Sano though…..”
“Buxton; he’s a much safer bet to become an above average MLB player due to his well-rounded offensive skillset and likelihood that he’ll develop into a quality center fielder.”
“Sano’s raw power is tremendous and I like him a lot, but there’s a good chance you end up with a first baseman who hits .240 with 30+ HR annually. That kind of player is nice to have but not nearly as hard to find the Buxton-type player.”
“Buxton. The athleticism and the power/speed combo. More ways to impact game and I eventually see Sano as corner OFer.”
“Buxton is the best player I have ever scouted in the minors..”
“Sano could change the fortunes of a team, Buxton could change the fortunes of the league. I think he could be that special. Potential to be the best player in the game. Elite.”
“I’d take Buxton, but its weird because I just got through telling a story about a Sano batting practice display that still sends chills up my spine. His power is special. I’d give my firstborn to get Sano into this org. I wonder what I would have to give up to get Buxton?”
“The game is changing, so Sano’s power could make him one of the biggest impact bats in the league. I’m talking 40 bombs at his peak. But Buxton is going to give you an up the middle presence with a loud package of tools that could make him the top player in the game. We have an internal comp to Mike Trout, but the tools might be even louder at full potential. He’s the top prospect in the game.”
“Buxton is showing more game development than I thought he would have at this stage of the game. The run is elite; the arm is very strong and should keep improving once he learns how to command it; the hit is easy plus for me and could be 70; the raw power could end up just as extreme as Sano. He doesn’t even know how to hit for power yet. But the explosion is there. He’s a power bat down the line. He will be able to do it all. With his range in center, the glove, the arm, the feel for baseball and the dual threat hit/power, he’s Eric Davis with a better bat. I love Sano, don’t get me wrong. But Buxton could be the real package. It would be great for the game if Buxton becomes Buxton.”
You are free to form your own conclusions, but the quotes speak for themselves, especially that last one. I keep reading it over and over, as the line, “It would be great for the game if Buxton becomes Buxton” really speaks to me. What a great line, and it would be great for the game if another Eric Davis showed up, or another Trout, or even the first Buxton. It’s a cyclical game, and as much we all love the long ball, even at the expense of contact or fundamental play, the return of five-tool talent is the wave of the future, an all-around game that is more skill than show. This isn’t a knock on Sano or any other prospect of extreme (if not one-sided) value in the minors. But I look forward to the new wave of well rounded toolsheds that come complete with baseball instincts and feel that could one day consume the major-league landscape, the Profars, the Taverases, the Yeliches, the Correas, and the future face of that movement, Byron Buxton.