The annuals of baseball history are littered with the corpses of busted prospects. Even if you want to give passes to the Luke Hochevars and the Delmon Youngs of the world, there are other players selected first overall in the draft who went on to have detrimental impacts on the long-term successes of their franchise. Matt Bush and Bryan Bullington are good examples as number one overall picks who were total busts, and I'm sure the names Adam Johnson and B.J. Garbe will still make Twins fans shake their heads.
Those four players were all total implosions, but unlike Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano it was something you could see coming. Once we saw enough of them, we knew they weren't going to amount to any kind of a ballplayer. If Buxton and/or Sano are to self destruct at the Major League level, comparisons would need to be against guys like Jeff Clement, Todd Van Poppel, Brandon Wood and, yes, the aforementioned Young. These guys all had pretty good numbers are were ranked highly by prospect experts when they were in the minor leagues, before failing to transition to the game at its highest level.
In some respects, I suppose that's something of a comfort. For players the caliber of Buxton and Sano, with the numbers they're putting up, it's actually pretty rare that they turn out to be anything less than replacement level.
Whether or not they can have sustained, productive careers is something else entirely. Career arcs don't always work the way we expect them to, and under most circumstances that's not a big deal. But when it comes to these two guys, we're not deal with "most circumstances."
The success of the Minnesota Twins over the next decade rests, right now, on the shoulders of two guys who can't even buy a beer. Forget busts; if even one of them somehow can't make the adjustment from the minor leagues to the majors, the backbone upon which Terry Ryan is basing this organization's future becomes irrevocably altered. Expectations are for both Buxton and Sano to, at the very least, be franchise cornerstones and occasional All-Stars. I don't want to compare them to Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, but I do think it's fair to say that we're expecting these guys to be impact players: stars 1A and 1B on a young team that could be very, very fun to cheer for in a couple of years.
Superstar, blue chip talent is exceptionally rare, even in a system that's as deep and talented as Minnesota's seems to be, and it's even more rare when you have two of them ready to make an impact at roughly the same time. But what if that's not what happens? Forget about the specifics, just ask yourself: what would the Twins do if Buxton and/or Sano aren't the impact players we expect them to be? God forbid, what if they're just average?
If that doesn't seem like a doomsday scenario to you, then I don't know who you are or how you live.
Minnesota would adjust and adapt, of course, as we all wept for the greatness that wasn't to be. Behind Sano, perhaps the Twins could eventually turn to Travis Harrison or, even more years later, Amaury Minier as a long-term answer. After Buxton in center field, Aaron Hicks' career could be up he middle after all. There could be trades or free agents or new draft picks and international signings...but they would all set the franchise back. By years. The drop off between the potential of Minnesota's top two prospects and their replacements might be understated if it were to be dubbed significant.
There are good prospects, and then there are prospects around whom you plan to build a franchise. Harrison, as talented as he is, it too far away to peg for anything. Minier appears to have a higher ceiling than Harrison, but the ceiling is so far into the future that it's impossible to see. Beyond the obvious discussion of players who would step into line behind Buxton and Sano, though, the discussion doesn't change - particularly on the position player side. Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, and Adam Walker aren't prospects around whom you plan a future.
The good news is that we won't have to wait much longer to see the impact that Byron and Miguel will have with the Twins. They're both setting their own timetables by the point, and with ETAs of late summer for Sano and Opening Day 2015 for Buxton, it's perfectly acceptable to start getting excited - about the players, about the team, about the future.
If those two guys succeed...when they succeed...remember what it's been like to be a Twins fan for the last three years, and remember how much pressure was on each of them to fulfill their potential. It will make the story that much better.
But if they don't pan out - if by some cruel twist of fate they aren't the impact players the franchise needs them to be - make your mental adjustments and see how it changes the destiny of the organization. Then tell me what you see. Because I'd love nothing more than to believe that everything would still be okay.
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