Byron Buxton: Fantasy Doppelgänger

MinnesotaTwins LogoDuring his ascent through the Twins’ system, the dreamers compared Byron Buxton to Mike Trout. Like a double rainbow, each with a pot of gold at the end, these dreamers were telling us that we were about to see two once in a lifetime talents take the diamond by storm simultaneously. Byron Buxton is built like a take the top off the defense wide receiver at 6’2”, 190 pounds. At 6’2”, 235 pounds, Mike Trout is built like an NFL linebacker you might see tracking down Adrian Peterson on Sundays. But Buxton will fill out, you say? Sure he will, but Trout was listed at 217 pounds as a 19-year-old. The 190 pound Buxton will be 22 in December. With that, let’s put the Buxton/Trout comparisons to rest. This is not the same player. So who will Byron Buxton play doppelgänger to in 2016 and beyond?

Now that we have that Trout mess out-of-the-way, let’s get realistic about Byron Buxton. For the moment we are going to live in the here and now. The waters seem pretty calm on the injury burdened Buxton at this time. Soon enough we will start seeing winter reports about how Buxton should enter the 2016 season with a clean bill of health that will allow him to begin realizing his immense potential. He will be dubbed a sleeper in the early going and then should gain the kind of fantasy draft attention we saw Joc Pederson get a year ago.  To remind you, Pederson was going around 270 overall in the earliest of drafts and wound up going as high as 130 or so.

Dreams of a sneaky 20/20 2016 will dance in the heads of those highest on Buxton. As for the 20 homer dreamers, there were 64 players who hit 20+ bombs in 2015. Of those 64, only Manny Machado and Josh Reddick took the field at less than 195 pounds. Remember, Buxton checked in at 190 pounds during the 2015 season. The most home runs Buxton has had in any year were the 15 he hit in 2013 between Rookie Ball and A-Ball. Upon his arrival to the Twins big league club last season, he only managed to pop two homers in 129 AB. I do not see 20 homers happening for Buxton in 2016 and if I own him I would be thrilled if he managed 10. Long term, I could see Buxton managing a few 20-ish homer seasons but mostly sitting in the 15 homer range when he gets acclimated to the league.

The stolen base threat on the other hand is alive and kicking for Buxton. His speed is a serious skill as he grades off the charts and managed 24 stolen bases (in 29 attempts) across three levels in 2015. It would seem that this is an area of promise, but there may be red flags here as well. You see, the stolen base is fast becoming a dying art in the game of baseball. In the last five years alone, the average amount of stolen bases per team has gone down steadily from 109 in 2011 to just 84 in 2015. It is important to note that the Twins ranked 20th in MLB with 70 stolen bases as a team this past season. For now I will say Buxton certainly has the speed to blow right past 20 total stolen bases at the MLB level in 2016, but I have concerns whether or not he will be given the opportunity. I would hope for 15, maybe 20 in 2016, and anything else would have to be considered a bonus. Long term, I could see Buxton maxing out in the 30-35 stolen base range during his best seasons.

Byron Buxon fantasy doppelgangerIt is said that Buxton puts together quality at bats and that he has a great approach at the plate. His 4.3% BB rate, 31.9% K rate, and .209 batting average through his initial 138 MLB plate appearances leaves much to be desired. Certainly his time spent on the shelf due to a litany of injuries has set him back. It would be wise to expect Buxton to have continued growing pains with the idea in mind that this is an extremely talented player who simply needs to figure it all out and put the pieces together towards a long and productive career.

The first name that comes to mind when I think of a current MLB player Byron Buxton could be doppelgänger to is Melvin Upton. That is to say that I could see of Buxton resembling the best and worst the elder Upton has had to offer during his career. Upton as you know peaked early and faded badly in recent years. I imagine the opposite to happen for Buxton. The best of Melvin Upton has been anywhere from his 86/24/82/22/.300 season in 2007 to his 79/29/78/31/.246 season in 2012. In all, Melvin Upton has managed to top 20 home runs three times, while surpassing the 30 SB mark five times. Oh but there is a flip side. Save for a slight bump in batting average, I imagine we could see Buxton’s learning curve seasons resembling the 67/12/35/20/.208 season that Melvin Upton produced in his first year with the Braves in 2013. Body type has a lot to do with this comparison as well. While I imagine Buxton filling out a bit more over time, Melvin’s current 6’3”, 185 pound build is quite similar to the player Buxton is now.

A second player that comes to mind when I imagine what Buxton will resemble now and in the future is Lorenzo Cain. Body-wise, Buxton seems to match up a little closer to Melvin Upton’s frame at the moment but once he fills out I could see the young Twin resembling the 6’2”, 205 frame of Lorenzo Cain. The fact Lorenzo Cain took a little while to evolve into a productive MLB player is also a factor. Now I am not saying that Buxton will take until his 28-year-old season to break out as Cain did in 2014. However, with his trajectory broken up by one injury after another, I think there is some reason for pause when it comes to Byron Buxton breaking out immediately – ala Carlos Correa. What Lorenzo Cain did in 2015 was rack up a 101/16/72/28/.307 and this could be a reasonable ceiling line for Byron Buxton once he hits his stride at the big league level. If Buxton can cut down the frequency at which he strikes out and tack on an extra walk here and there, Cain’s upside is well within his reach.

Growing pains will be abundant if the Twins continue to press Byron Buxton into big league action before he puts a little more polish on his game. Assuming the Twins opt to make him a big part of their 2016 plans, Buxton is likely to be doppelgänger to the bad to semi-productive version of Melvin Upton in the near future. Long term, leaning on his pedigree and immense skill-set, Buxton can become a doppelgänger to the version of Lorenzo Cain who was in MVP discussion at the All Star break this past season.

 

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Ron Vackar
Though Ron is a Dodgers fan, he is more likely to be found at Angel Stadium or Petco Park during the regular season. The Dodgers play 9-10 games a year in San Diego so Petco is basically Dodgers Stadium south. By day he is a high school teacher as well as a golf coach and previously coached baseball. When not working, he can be found at home with his beautiful wife and dog Brooklyn.
Ron Vackar

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