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November 16, 2012

Prospect Debate

Buxton or Sano for Twins Top Prospect?

by BP Prospect Staff

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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.

Link to Minnesota Twins prospect rankings

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.

Related Content:  Prospects,  Miguel Sano,  Power,  Twins,  Byron Buxton

24 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Luke in MN

I'm looking at the guys who've hit the most MLB homers in the last 3 years, and it is striking how you can hit 25-30+ homers a year and not necessarily be all that valuable. Konerko, A. Soriano, E. Encarnacion were all fine, but gave a ton away on non-power tools. Reynolds, Dunn, and Howard combined for 260 homers in 3 years and were all not too far off replacement level.

Still, as someone who can just scout the stats, not the players, how can you not go with a guy who hit 28 homers in the Midwest League as a teenager? Especially when even the bulls on Buxton don't think even the minor-league stats will start flowing for a couple years. Guy A had 60 XBHs in the Midwest League, Guy B is fast and looks good in a uniform.

Nov 16, 2012 03:50 AM
rating: 2
BP staff member Chris Mellen
BP staff

I think Byron Buxton is going to be the better major leaguer. Regardless of what Miguel Sano is currently doing at the minor league level or when Buxton's stats may ramp up over the next season or two, when the final products are on display at the highest level, I see Buxton as the better player. There's lead time and developmental hurdles to go through for both players for sure, but Buxton has the leg up on some tools that have looked very projectable as he gains experience as a pro.

Nov 16, 2012 04:20 AM

Soriano was a plus defender in LF this year. Sure, the lack of walks hurts, but .262 /.322/.499 with +12 runs on defense has him at 4 fWAR.

I'll give you that Konerko and E5 don't add *anything* with the glove. And that's really the question with Sano.

Can he be average at 3B, or average to slightly above in RF? If so, then I'll take him. If he's going to be average to below and limited to 1B, then I'll pass. To me, that's a lot more important than whether he hits .230 or .260.

Nov 16, 2012 07:59 AM
rating: 1

The real question about Sano is less what his BA is and more what is OBP is. If he's 30 HR, .250/.300 with slightly below average defense at 3b, that's no good. If he's 30 HR, .250/.380, he's probably more valuable than Buxton's potential .280/10-15HR/plus defense at a premium position

Nov 16, 2012 10:25 AM
rating: 4

Buxton's ceiling is potentially a lot more than .280/10-15HR. If it was more like .300/20-25HR then that would make a huge difference here. .280/10-15 HR is a plausible outcome, but to be fair, you wouldn't be comparing it to Sano reaching his full ceiling.

Nov 16, 2012 14:59 PM
rating: 1

"Both would have paid him 90% of their entire budget to get a deal done."

Wow. That seems really unwise. Buxton got a $6 million signing bonus, $200K under slot for pick 1.2. If you were to give Buxton 90% of your draft money, you'd have to commit to that up front, then significantly overdraft players who would sign in the rest of the draft. (You forfeit draft money for picks who are unsigned.)

Houston's method - drafting Correa perhaps a touch early to free up signficant slot space later - seems a much more likely outcome than committing to run most of your draft money into pick 1. I don't think I'm going to hire those scouting directors as negotiators; I think they're not just wrong, but badly, foolishly wrong.

Nov 16, 2012 07:15 AM
rating: 1

Yeah, but you don't know the full context of those comments. Could be they work for teams that drafted late and didn't really get to sniff elite talent. I see that more as wishful thinking from their own perspective rather than saying what they would have done if they drafted 1 or 2.

Also, I'm pretty sure some teams (many? most?) had a total pool well under $6 million. Hypothetically, if you had the 15th pick and Buxton somehow fell you'd have to put up 90 percent or maybe 100 percent of your pool to have an offer that could even be taken seriously.

This basically played out with Appel. I see the comments more in those lines.

Nov 16, 2012 10:22 AM
rating: 1

One star is worth vastly more than a bunch of bench players and bullpen arms, which is typically what you're hoping for in the late rounds. Typically there's an enormous dropoff in potential after the first few picks, which is why it is potentially worth allocating such a large chunk or resources on them.

I'd have to do some serious research to back it up, but I'd bet that fewer than 10 players in each draft class account for the majority of WARP for the entire class.

Nov 16, 2012 10:29 AM
rating: 3

That, and the strategy available to the Astros wasn't available to everyone since they had the highest total pool of dollars to play with.

I thought Houston executed it brilliantly, don't get me wrong, but getting an elite (top 3 or better) talent for below slot and then having lots more $ to spread around simply wasn't in the cards for the vast majority of teams.

Nov 16, 2012 15:45 PM
rating: 1

Considering that Sano is so young for his level, if his hit tool doesn't make the necessary improvements against more advanced pitching, he still has time to repeat and not actually be old for that level right?

Nov 16, 2012 07:24 AM
rating: 1

This is one of my favorite series in a long time, guys. Very fun to read.

Nov 16, 2012 07:52 AM
rating: 10
David Martin


Nov 16, 2012 09:55 AM
rating: 1

These debates are fantastic! Normally, I don't enjoy the sausage-making procedure, but these behind-the-scenes looks at your process are really engaging and fascinating to me.

As a Twins fan, I am excited that there is a debate over who is number 1. Last year, it was a no-brainer, and adding Buxton to the system makes it a lot more interesting.

What would an outfield of Buxton, Hicks and Joe Benson look like? Would any balls fall in play? Would every runner be thrown out? I'm being ridiculous, but those three in the same outfield would add crazy defensive value, right?

Nov 16, 2012 08:23 AM
rating: 2
David Martin

One of my favorite outfields to watch was the 2003 Mariners, which featured three CF-capable players in Ichiro Suzuki, Mike Cameron and Randy Winn. I given the success of that team, I thought we'd see more teams use the 3-CF lineup, especially in parks with big outfields. I suppose the reality is that it's hard to corner the market on decent-hitting center fielders and most teams have a corner OF type on their roster that needs a place to play. Perhaps we will see this type of OF with the Twins (if Sano sticks to the infield). The Twins seem to like to collect athletic, defensively-capable outfielders.

Nov 16, 2012 09:20 AM
rating: 2

I could take a long shower with the door locked to this Prospect Debate series. Well done, guys.

Nov 16, 2012 08:43 AM
rating: 6
Richard Bergstrom

I can understand Sano having trouble with breaking pitches being an issue. What I can't understand is he's had two and a half quality seasons while being young for his level. Meanwhile, Buxton, while being half a year younger, hasn't made it out of rookie, much less put up better numbers than Sano did at rookie ball.

Maybe it goes back to the Top 10 25-and-Younger thing, where I was suggesting people who get to higher levels or the majors should rank higher than prospects who have yet to play a season... but shouldn't Sano get a more favorable review than Buxton for performing well at rookie ball and at A ball?

Nov 16, 2012 09:34 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Performance is only one part of the equation. Buxton's tool profile is superior, which is ultimately what justified the #1 spot.

Nov 16, 2012 09:38 AM
Richard Bergstrom

I can understand that, but doesn't performance help to justify the validity of the tools?

I mean, if not, don't you run into a situation where each team's #1 pick each year will most likely float to the top of that team's prospect rankings since that #1's evaluation is almost entirely based on projection?

Also, it seems Buxton's being given the benefit of the doubt that we will develop his hit tool but Sano, though being only a few months older, is assumed to be "he is what he is".

Shouldn't they both have a lot of projection left with the difference being that Sano's shown he can hit at A-ball and, showing that, should be more valuable?

Nov 16, 2012 13:33 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I don't think Sano's hit tool is without projection; drop him in the majors now and he hits .150. He has plenty of room to grow, but that growth has an ultimate ceiling. Buxton has a wider gap between the present/future, but the ceiling of tools like hit, glove, etc. are much higher than Sano's. Big difference between a 4/5 hitter and a 6/7 hitter.

Production does matter. Sano has shown solid tool utility in game action, and I think he was given credit for that. This was a tough debate. Buxton didn't run away with unanimous support.

Keep in mind, Buxton was considered by many to be the top player available in the entire draft. This isn't just a top draft pick. This could have been THE top draft pick. To compare him to another high dollar five-tool talent in a previous draft, Bubba Starling, Buxton grades out higher. He has a special ceiling. That buys him a lot of helium, especially right out of the gate. Now he will have to produce to justify the lofty ranking, and if he struggles in his first full season, the reports and the evaluations should document that.

Nov 16, 2012 13:49 PM
Richard Bergstrom

I hope Buxton does well since I have him on one of my Scoresheet teams.

Maybe Sano's just been in my mind longer since the days the Pirates were trying to grab him. Either way, even a Russell Branyan is a pretty valuable player.

Nov 16, 2012 14:40 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

"Trying to grab him" is certainly one way of looking at that particular signing process. That was a shady scene.

Nov 16, 2012 14:43 PM
Richard Bergstrom

Don't think I heard about that. I thought the Pirates were just outbid. What happened?

Nov 17, 2012 13:18 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I highly recommend watching "Pelotero." It's on Netflix. Half of the documentary is about the process of signing Sano; most notably, some of the shady maneuvers by Rene Gayo and the Pirates. Basically, Gayo helped create (or at least exploit) an age investigation on Sano that scared off teams and lowered his original valuation.

Nov 17, 2012 13:54 PM

Even if we set aside whatever increase in certainty comes from Sano's accomplishments at higher levels of competition, is there a discount rate in play here? If we expect two prospects to rise to similar levels of greatness, but one will be a star in 2018 and one will be a star in 2015, how does that affect how we rate them now?

Nov 19, 2012 14:22 PM
rating: 0
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