MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins have had their eyes on Byron Buxton for months. No better highlight came from tracking this super-fast high school center fielder than a Georgia state playoff game three weeks ago.
“He scored from second base on a sacrifice fly to right field,” Twins scouting director Deron Johnson said.
Buxton just put his head down and never stopped running.
“I had never seen that before,” Johnson said. “The right fielder was shocked, and he just kind of panicked and threw the ball into second.”
That speed is the main reason why the Twins took Buxton, from Appling County High School in the tiny town of Baxter, with the second pick in the amateur draft on Monday night.
Houston chose Carlos Correa first, a high school shortstop from Puerto Rico. Stanford right-hander Mark Appel was widely predicted to be taken by his hometown Astros, but even when they passed on him the pitching-poor Twins didn’t blink. Buxton was their preference all along, said Johnson, who saw the 18-year-old play in person six times and had lunch with him twice.
The top-ranked prep prospect by Baseball America magazine, which also ranked him as the best athlete and best pure hitter among all the available high school players, Buxton helped lead his team to the Georgia Class 2A state championship this spring. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder not only tore up opponents at the plate, on the bases and in the field, he struck out 154 batters in 81 innings this season.
But he’s not tempted to keep throwing in the pros.
“Not at all. Pitching is too much strain on my arm,” Buxton said on a conference call.
Buxton grew up cheering for brothers B.J. Upton and Justin Upton, star players for the Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks who are a rough blueprint for Buxton as he develops. He was even a star defensive back and wide receiver in football with a scholarship offer from Georgia in that sport, Johnson said.
Giving that up wasn’t difficult either, Buxton said.
“Not at all. Just focused on baseball,” he said.
Passing on pitching might have frustrated some fans, but unlike the NFL or the NBA these picks are often for five years from now, so focusing on a certain positional need the major league team has is never part of the strategy. Buxton has been compared by the Twins to Aaron Hicks, their first-round pick — 14th overall — in 2008 who is currently playing for Double-A New Britain. But Johnson said he’s faster than Hicks.
“He’s a five-tool player,” Johnson said, adding: “Everybody talks about his athleticism. He’s got a really good swing. We think he’s going to hit. We think he’ll hit anywhere from number one in the order to number three. Tremendous, tremendous upside.”
This was the Twins’ highest pick since Joe Mauer, the first selection in 2001, but Johnson said he didn’t anticipate any problems signing Buxton. Major League Baseball began a new system for paying draft picks this year, and the Twins have more bonus pool money — about $12.3 million — to spend this summer than any other team over the first 10 rounds. The maximum allowed amount for Buxton’s signing bonus is $6.2 million.
The Twins had three of Monday’s first 42 picks, including compensatory selections for losing outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel as free agents.
At No. 32 in the supplemental round, they took right-hander Jose Berrios, a high schooler from Puerto Rico with a fastball in the 93-95 mph range. At No. 42, they picked Luke Bard, a right-hander out of Georgia Tech who is the younger brother of Boston Red Sox reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard.
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