This year has been the Year of the Prospect. All around MLB, teams have been calling up top prospect after top prospect, with many of them finding success in the majors immediately. Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Carlos Correa, Joey Gallo, Joc Pederson, Francisco Lindor, Noah Syndergaard, Miguel Sano, and Carlos Rodon come to mind. Oh, and that was just a cherry-picked list of names from the top 15 of Baseball America's 2015 Top 100 Prospect list.
One player from BA's top 15 that hasn't been quite so fortunate is Byron Buxton. Through the first 27 games of his career, he's hit only .188/.228/.260 with a putrid 35/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. To put that into some (horrifying) context, Drew Butera has hit .186/.240/.268 for his career, plus he's managed a better strikeout rate (19.5% to 34.3%) and walk rate (5.1% to 3.9%) than Buxton.
Now that doesn't mean that Buxton is a bust, even if his plate discipline and lack of ability to make solid contact has been a little concerning. He was the #2 overall selection in the MLB draft a few years ago and #2 on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospect list, after all. However, his struggles have definitely made the outfield situation for the Twins a bit murkier.
While some growing pains should have been expected, I think we all can say that Buxton's output has been lackluster thus far. If he could have put up a similar line to Mike Trout in his first taste of the big leagues (.220/.281/.390) we wouldn't necessarily be feeling great, but at least we'd be reassured that he wasn't incompetent at the plate.
But, I don't want you to think that I'm already writing Buxton's eulogy here. Instead, I simply think that any hope of him breaking camp on the team's 2016 Opening Day roster can be put to rest.
It's too bad because an Eddie Rosario/Buxton/Aaron Hicks outfield would be supreme defensively, but barring an impressive spring training next year, I don't see much that Buxton can do to keep himself out of Triple-A to start the year. I think it's overly optimistic to think he'll suddenly be able to recognize a low-in-the-zone breaking pitch or start hitting the ball with more authority over the final month, plus the Twins have Max Kepler and Oswaldo Arcia looming in the minors. Additionally, the breakouts of Hicks and Rosario have given the Twins some comfort that center field should theoretically be in good hands (I know Rosario isn't going to play there regularly, but he should be able to fill the position in a pinch).
So, next season I think it's a given that Buxton will start at Rochester. He'll be given however much time he'll need to prove that he can improve his plate discipline. I know he hit .400 while he was there after he recovered from his injury, but let's be real, that occurred in only 13 games and was buoyed by an insane .500 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). He also walked in 6.8% of his plate appearances and struck out in 20.3% of them, and both numbers would be average to below-average in the majors. Except, remember, that was in Triple-A.
Once he's able to show that he can lay off a greater percentage of breaking pitches out of the zone, then he'll be ready to contribute offensively to the 2016 team. It'll be a shame, but I won't be upset if he starts next season as a Red Wing instead of a Twin, as long as he's roaming center field at Target Field sometime midseason.