Playing ‘This or That’ with position players
By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com
I covered pitching prospects in my last post called “This or That” and this time I turn my attention to position players. Same premise. You’re choosing between two prospects in the same organization and can only keep one in a proposed trade. So, who is it going to be? Let’s play another round of ‘This or That?’
Byron Buxton vs. Miguel Sano, Minnesota: There’s no way you can dance around this one. The Twins are lucky enough to have two of the best — maybe scratch the “of the” and just say “the two best” — position player prospects in the game. But which rising star has the brighter future?
We’ll start with Buxton. Minnesota grabbed the outfielder out of high school with the No. 2 pick in the 2012 Draft following the Astros’ selection of shortstop Carlos Correa. From there, it became the Twins’ hope that he’d develop into the five-tool player that some had projected last June. He certainly hasn’t disappointed thus far. The 19-year-old owns a .330/.415/.526 slash line with 12 homers, 16 triples, 19 doubles, 75 RBIs and 49 steals through 110 games between Class A Cedar Rapids and Class A Advanced Fort Myers. Those impressive offensive numbers show an advanced bat and plus speed, and the scouting reports on his defensive prowess in center field have been just as good. Fourteen months after being drafted in the pros, Buxton has become perhaps the most exciting player in the Minor Leagues.
Sano isn’t exactly a slouch either though. In fact, he is probably the most exciting for those who dig the long ball. His 31 homers between Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain are a career high, trumping his 28 last season for Class A Beloit, and rank second among all Minor Leaguers (see below for the Minors’ leader). What’s more, he’s shown patience with walks in 12.4 percent of his plate appearances. His defense and speed aren’t exactly up to Buxton’s caliber — especially on the speed side — but the 20-year-old’s power is very translatable. When he hits his stride in the Majors, 35 homers a season aren’t out of the question, and that’s incredibly valuable in today’s game.
Still, the nod here goes to Buxton. MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo has him ranked baseball’s No. 1 overall prospect, and that’s pretty consistent across other midseason lists as well. Sano — MLB.com’s No. 3 prospect — will make the Twins very happy when he hits the big leagues, and they’re obviously happier that the scenario of just keeping one of these guys is nothing more than make-believe. But if we had to do it, Buxton would be the pick. Advantage: Buxton
The Astros acquired Singleton from the Phillies in 2011 as part of the deal that sent Hunter Pence to Philadelphia, and he has been at or near the top of the system’s rankings ever since. He performed well as a 21-year-old at Double-A Corpus Christi last season, putting up a .284/.396/.497 line with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 131 games. Then, he was suspended for the first 50 games this season due to his second drug-of-abuse-related positive test and has struggled (.217/.341/.360/6/25) in 61 games since joining Triple-A Oklahoma City this summer (although he’s improved some this month with a .259/.427/.466 line). Still, he checks in at No. 21 overall on Mayo’s list and is the only first baseman to find his way into the top 100. He is by all measures as close to an elite first base prospect as baseball has right now.
Then there’s Springer, who may possess the best combination of power and speed outside the Majors. He leads the Minors with 35 homers and has also swiped 39 bags between Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City, becoming the first Minor Leaguer to enter the 30-30 club since 2009. With 15 games remaining in the RedHawks season, the 40-40 mark isn’t entirely out of reach either. Because of his speed, his glove plays well at any outfield spot. The real knock against the 23-year-old is that he does strike out quite a bit — 149 times in 532 plate appearances (28 percent) to be exact — and that’s something Major League pitchers could take advantage of at the next level.
So do you take Singleton, who has struggled but by far has the most promise among those at his position, or Springer, who is a Minor League phenom with weaknesses that could be greatly exposed at the highest level? Give me Springer. Like Buxton, he is an exciting player that could have an influence on many aspects of the game, not just at the plate. First base isn’t exactly a premium position — perhaps that’s why teams try to get their prospects to stick at other positions first — and that dulls the shine on Singleton for me. Advantage: Springer
Javier Baez vs. Kris Bryant vs. Mike Olt, Chicago (NL): We’ll look at this last one through a slightly different prism. Who projects better as the Cubs everyday third baseman down the line? It’s a question that seemed to have a pretty clear answer at the beginning of the season, and that answer was Baez. The Cubs’ top prospect plays shortstop now, but he profiles better at the hot corner, especially with Starlin Castro signed through the 2019 season. He’s only built upon a strong reputation at the plate with a .279/.342/.564 line with 31 homers and 95 RBIs between Class A Advanced Daytona and Double-A Tennessee.
Since June though, Chicago’s senior circuit representative took Bryant with the second pick in the Draft and received Mike Olt in the trade that sent Matt Garza to Texas last month. Bryant — the Golden Spikes winner at the University of San Diego — has hit the ground running with a .344/.391/.688 line thus far through three levels and earned a Player of the Week honor for the second straight time on Monday. The sample size remains small — he’s only played 27 games in the pros — but if nothing else, he’s established that his potential with the bat is real. Then again, like Baez, Bryant could be in for a position change, particularly to one of the corner outfield spots.
Olt, on the other hand, has really labored in his first time with Triple-A Iowa. He’s 10-for-87 (.115) with 23 strikeouts in 24 games with the Cubs. That follows a 65-game stretch for Round Rock during which he owned a .213/.317/.422 line with 11 homers and 32 RBIs and missed about a month due to an eye issue. This could just be a down year for the 2010 first-round pick and MLB.com’s No. 61 prospect, but it does look like his stock is dropping quite precipitously. Of the three, he does seem most suited defensively to stick to third, even though he did have looks at the outfield and first base with the Rangers in the past. He turns 25 in one week.
All in all though, I still see Baez as a better fit at the hot corner. Although there are concerns with his patience, I think his bat is elite enough to keep the other two from the conversation. If the Cubs move the struggling Castro elsewhere and he sticks at shortstop, then Bryant is the choice. Unless he shows more promise, Olt’s future looks more like a stopgap or utility man off the bench. Advantage: Baez