Byron Buxton stirred memories of Mike Trout when he blazed through the Class A Midwest League this season. Just like Trout did, Buxton won the MWL's Most Valuable Player Award and Prospect of the Year awards in his first full year as a pro.
Buxton moved on from the Midwest League in late June, finishing his scintillating season with two months of strong play in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. He's moving even faster than anticipated -- which is saying something, considering he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft -- and the Twins hope to further expedite his development with some time in the Arizona Fall League.
The fourth-youngest player in the AFL, Buxton won't turn 20 until Dec. 18. He wants to use his time in Arizona as a springboard to another promotion to open the 2014 season.
"I'm hoping to start in Double-A," Buxton said. "I'm just going to try to have a good time here and get my at-bats in. Get good at-bats, quality at-bats, and hopefully see what happens."
Buxton got off to a slow start for the Glendale Desert Dogs, going 5-for-22 (.227) with a homer and six strikeouts in his first five games. He strained his left (non-throwing) shoulder swinging the bat, and though the injury isn't considered serious, he hasn't played since Oct. 16 as a precaution.
A healthy Buxton has no equal as the best prospect and most exciting player in the Minor Leagues. His worst tool is probably his power, which still grades as above average. His bat, speed, center-field defense and arm all receive grades of 70 or better on the 20-80 scouting scale.
While his tools were obvious when the Twins handed him a franchise-record $6 million bonus last year, how quickly Buxton would adjust to pro ball was not. He hit just three homers as an Appling County High (Baxley, Ga.) senior against lackluster prep competition, and he batted .248/.344/.448 between two Rookie ball stops in his pro debut. But he exploded in 2013, hitting .334/.424/.520 with 12 homers, 49 extra-base hits and 55 steals.
He reminded several Midwest League observers of Trout, albeit with more power than the Angels superstar showed at that stage of his career. Buxton was the Florida State League's youngest regular after his promotion, yet he continued to excel in all facets of the game.
Buxton, Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year, said jumping to the Class A Advanced level at age 19 helped prepare him for the Fall League.
"The pitching was a little bit better," he said. "They hit their spots a little more. They had more than a fastball to fall back on, so you've just got to be patient and disciplined at the plate, and hopefully you'll get your pitch to hit."
Buxton will use that same strategy in Arizona, where he's expected to return to action before too long. If he continues to progress as rapidly as he did this year, it's possible he could join the Twins by the end of 2014.
Twins hitters in the AFL
• Outfielder/first baseman Max Kepler set a since-broken bonus standard for European players when he signed for $800,000 out of Germany in 2009. The son of American and Polish ballet dancers, Kepler stands out most for his left-handed power potential, and he also has the swing and patience to hit for a solid average. He missed most of the first three months of the season with an elbow injury.
• One of the best offensive second-base prospects in the Minors, Eddie Rosario is a career .307/.358/.510 batter in the Minors. He's a line-drive hitter with some gap power and solid speed. A converted center fielder who was drafted out of high school from Puerto Rico in the fourth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, he has improved at second base and could develop into an average defender there.
Twins pitchers in the AFL
• Right-hander A.J. Achter dropped to the 46th round of the 2010 Draft because he was expected to return for his senior season at Michigan State, but the Twins lured him away for $50,000 after he performed well in the Arizona Fall League. He doesn't have a true plus pitch, yet he has advanced to Triple-A thanks to his ability to mix an average fastball, sinking changeup and slurvy breaking ball.
• A fourth-round pick from San Jose State in 2012, Zack Jones opened eyes in the instructional league that fall by hitting 100 mph with his fastball. He regularly works in the mid-90s, and the key for him reaching his ceiling as a late-inning reliever will be improving his curveball and control.
• Looking for starting pitching last offseason, Minnesota shipped Ben Revere to the Phillies in exchange for right-handers Vance Worley and Trevor May . A fourth-round pick out of Kelso (Wash.) High School in 2008, May has the stuff to be mid-rotation starter but has yet to show the control and command to reach that ceiling.
• Another trade acquisition from last offseason, righty Alex Meyer came from the Nationals in exchange for Denard Span. The 23rd overall selection in the 2011 Draft and a Kentucky product, Meyer can show a plus-plus fastball and slider at times and has a ceiling of a No. 2 starter. His changeup and command aren't as advanced.