June 5, 2012

Twins use No. 2 pick on high schooler Byron Buxton, pass on Mark Appel

For months the assumption was that the Astros would use the No. 1 pick on either Stanford right-hander Mark Appel or Georgia high school center fielder Byron Buxton and the Twins would take the other guy with the No. 2 pick. That all changed last night when the Astros shocked the baseball world (and immediately ruined every mock draft) by taking Puerto Rico high school shortstop Carlos Correa, leaving the Twins with their choice of Appel and Buxton.

Leading up to the draft Twins officials were adamant about selecting the best player available rather than targeting a specific need, which is absolutely the correct approach to take for the long-term health of the franchise and a big part of what separates the MLB draft from the NFL and NBA versions. And ultimately they ended up with the top-ranked prospect on their draft board in Buxton, choosing the raw high school outfielder over the polished college pitcher.

It sets the Twins up for years of second-guessing if Appel quickly becomes an ace or Buxton flames out, but this year's draft class was considered extremely lacking in elite-level talent and there was no clear-cut top choice. Many draft analysts believed that at least five and as many as eight players from last year's class would have been the No. 1 pick this year and the Astros and Twins weren't alone in passing on Appel. He fell all the way to the Pirates at No. 8.

Most mock drafts had Appel pegged for the Astros in the top spot, but his being from Houston seemingly played a big factor in that assumption and based on prospect rankings rather than pick projections Buxton was as close as anyone from this class got to being the consensus top talent available. Baseball America, ESPN.com, and MLB.com all ranked Buxton as the best player available, whereas those same three outlets rated Appel fourth, sixth, and second.

None of which is to say that choosing Buxton over Appel or various other college options isn't a significant risk for the Twins, because that's undeniable when committing a hugely valuable pick and more than $5 million to a teenager lacking experience versus high-level competition. On the other hand, as the Twins unfortunately showed the last time they had the No. 2 pick choosing a polished college arm hardly guarantees anything and can prove plenty risky too.

Appel isn't Adam Johnson, but simply being a dominant college pitcher doesn't offer immunity to going bust and they fell in love with Buxton's immense physical tools, which include elite speed and range in center field, a right-handed swing that produced a batting average above .500, and an arm so strong that he struck out 18 batters in a seven-inning complete game last week to win the deciding game of the Georgia state championship series as a pitcher.

Along with the level of competition in rural Georgia power potential is his other major question mark, but hitting 30 homers isn't exactly a prerequisite for center fielder greatness. And while the question with 2007 first-rounder and fellow Southern high school outfielder Ben Revere was whether he could become a star-caliber player without any power, the question with Buxton is whether his 6-foot-2 frame will produce substantial power. There's a big difference.

In ranking Buxton as the best player available, here's some of what Baseball America said:

Buxton emerged last summer and fall as the top position player in the 2012 draft class, first with his premium, athletic body and blazing speed, then with his emerging power potential and intriguing bat. Buxton has a chance to be a true five-tool player if his bat develops as hoped. The 6-foot-2, 170-pounder has a high-waisted frame that oozes projection. He hasn't hit for big power this spring, though he flashes plus raw power in batting practice and was runner-up in last year's home run derby prior to the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field.

ESPN also ranked him as the best player available, with a similarly glowing scouting report:

Buxton is by far the best upside prospect in this year's draft, as his body and off-the-charts athleticism have earned him comparisons to players from the Uptons to Matt Kemp to Eric Davis to Willie Mays. If you want raw tools, this is about as good as it gets. ... Buxton has quick wrists and gets good rotation in his right-handed swing, with good hand-eye coordination but a slight tendency for his swing to get long on balls out of the zone. ... There are risk factors here. Buxton has hit for very little power this spring, giving up the long ball for more contact but raising questions about what his actual power ceiling might be.

Ultimately the decision hinges on the Twins and their scouting department being right about what type of player a teenager will be in five years, which is admittedly pretty scary. However, the history of the No. 2 pick shows very few sure things, the lack of elite-level talent in this year's class created even less certainty than usual, and clearly the Twins aren't the only team with doubts about Appel becoming an ace. And so they swung for the fences with Buxton.

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  • SteveV

    Aaron, hope you can add some comments on the subsequent Twins’ picks here too.

  • mlhouse

    No matter how much upside Buxton has, this is a terrible pick. The Twins needed to take the best college starter available. Buxton could develop into a Matt Kemp, but he will not be contributing to the big leagues for at least 4 more years. Who is going to pitch for the Twins in the interim? How many 100+ loss seasons do we have ahead of us until the “TWINS WAY” pans out.

    Unfortuantlye, the only college arm we drafted in the first three selections is a guy that will be a relief pitcher in the majors and is coming off an injury.

    Rebuilding is a long term process, but the Twins management does not seem to understand that we are in that process, and therefore, is committing the team to a really extended rebuild.

  • DHawaii

    I want the Twins to be really good (95+ wins) when they are done rebuilding. Swing for the fences, love the pick. They will have many more high picks in the future and I think they should go for stars and everyone that knows more than I do says Buxton has the highest upside. I am all for it.

  • MC

    Revere played ball in Kentucky though, I see he was born in the ATL.

  • AM.

    How about taking a stance, Aaron? Are you glad they went with Buxton? (I think you are.)

  • Paulie

    The Nationals & Pirates sure do have some high upside players in their system. Should be interesting to see how they develop.

  • SteveV

    Not sure the Pirates are going to be able to sign Appel….

  • TerenceM

    Appel might not be signable and he had the choice to be selective with who he signed with. I think passing to go with the player with the highest possible ceiling was a good choice. The Twins have to develop superstars because they sure as heck aren’t going to sign them in free agency. They haven’t been able to trade for one in a long time, either.

  • Kirk

    Seems that the Twins could still net Mitch Brown, as he wasn’t picked yesterday and they have the third pick of the 2nd round.

    Strong pick- just hope he is a little more impact than Aaron Hicks has been…

  • Josh

    I have to admit, despite the hype and nice projection potential for Buxton, I’m very nervous that his ceiling will end up being Ben Revere with a better arm. Not that he would be a bad player, but…

    I’m ok with the Twins passing on Appel. He’s gotten overworked in college, and the reports on him are that he doesn’t dominate the way his stuff says he should. He really makes me wonder if his stuff will translate to the MLB-level. Looks like other teams agreed, since he fell to 8.

    Gausman & Zimmer were really interesting to me, but I can’t argue too much with the Twins taking a kid who was #1 or #2 on almost every board out there. Kinda wish their next pick wasn’t another HS kid too, but I guess the club is looking long-term for rebuilding the system and not so much for short-term help?

  • Scott Stahoviak

    Seeing that we will likely have a less than desireable ball club for the next 2-3 years, I love this pick. Buck will have plenty of time to develop

    We’ve got plenty o’ picks left for addressing the Mound – we never hit on these anyways, so might as well save some coin in the process rather than risk getting Boras’d

  • Taylor

    Now here is the important question, after the drafting and stalled development (and question marks surrounding Mauer, ortiz, etc) of Aaron Hicks who was similarity profiled, do we trust Twins brass to develop Buxton properly?

  • jason

    Brown, Mitch to the Indians at 79.
    Twins better hope this doesn’t bite them in the butt after passing on him in favor of 4 other pitchers.

  • birdwatcher

    Aaron Hicks was not exactly “similarly profiled”. There are certain similarities, yes, but Hicks was far from being the most talented player in his draft class.

  • http://twinkietown.com SHS

    Everyone keeps saying Correa is a SHOCKER.

    No I knew he was the best player in the draft for the last 3 weeks, as did LOTS OF PEOPLE….
    I thought the Twins were going to get Correa, with that said, i thought Hou. would select Appel, Buxton and Twins would Have Correa FALL into their lap.

    That did not happen :( :(

    Unfortunately the comps of Andrew McCuthcen for Bryon Buxton i just simply don’t see, the upper leg strenght of McCutchen is twice that of Byron’s… Byron has a LONG loooooooooooooooooong way to go.

    I would rather have Carlos Correa than 2 Byron Buxtons.

  • Son of Shane Mack

    No matter how much upside Buxton has, this is a terrible pick. The Twins needed to take the best college starter available. Buxton could develop into a Matt Kemp, but he will not be contributing to the big leagues for at least 4 more years.

    Neither would Appel. He’s be in the minors for a year. Then Tommy John surgery thanks to being severely overworked in college. Year three will be his bounce-year. Year 4 he could be in the majors.

    I’d say the chances he’ll have to go under the knife in the next 2-3 years are about 80%. Sure, kids come back from that – but not always to 100%.

    There’s many reasons he fell to 8th. The Twins were wise to pass.

    Every team could use a Matt Kemp. We could be so lucky if that’s what he blossoms into – perhaps without some of the Matt Kemp personality.

    Obviously, hindsight is 20/20. If Appel turns into an Ace and Buxton turns into BJ Garbe, then it wasn’t a good choice. But, given the info – I think they did alright.

  • Son of Shane Mack

    Appel turned down $6 Million from Houston.

    Then got drafted by Pittsburgh at #8.

    Chances of him getting that from the Pirates? Zero percent.

    Either he’ll end up taking far, far less because of Boras or pitch in the Northern League or Japan, perhaps.

    That signing bonus won’t look so small after his arm gives out next year.

  • Steve J

    for some perspective:

    If this guy hits .275/.340/440 in the Majors with his premium speed and defense, he will be a major win for the Twins..

  • mlhouse

    “Neither would Appel. He’s be in the minors for a year. Then Tommy John surgery thanks to being severely overworked in college. Year three will be his bounce-year. Year 4 he could be in the majors.

    I’d say the chances he’ll have to go under the knife in the next 2-3 years are about 80%. Sure, kids come back from that – but not always to 100%.”

    Teams should hire you because of your extensive medical knowledge.