Fantasy Baseball: Byron Buxton's Spring Training Has His Stock on the Rise

It's still early, but Byron Buxton's strikeout rate appears to be down this spring. How much does that change his fantasy baseball outlook?

After busting on the scene in a big way last September, all eyes were set to be on Byron Buxton in spring training this year for the Minnesota Twins. Could he carry that power over? Could he finally start making contact consistently?

So far, so good.

The defense was never a question, but these are fun, so just let the Gucciness flow over you for a second.

Whew. Wipe that sweat off your brow, friend.

The defense has been baller -- as expected -- for Buxton, but it's not what brings us here today. Instead, we're here for his offense because that has been the true ray of sunshine so far in the spring. Sure, his slash is somewhat pedestrian at .235/.316/.500, but in the stats that matter, Buxton should be getting our attention.

Let's take a deeper look at Buxton's spring thus far to see why we need to keep paying attention to what he's doing. The sample isn't overly robust at 39 plate appearances, but what lies within them is worth monitoring.

Reducing the Strikeouts

In Buxton's first two partial seasons in the big leagues, it was abundantly clear that dude needed to cut down on the strikeouts. As we know, spring training strikeout rates have a high correlation with what the player does in the regular season, and Buxton is coming out smelling dandy thus far.

In his 39 spring plate appearances, Buxton has struck out just seven times, amounting to a 17.9% strikeout rate. Strikeout rates skew lower in the spring than they do in the regular season, but that's a big jump from where he was at in 2016.

For comparison, here's a look at Buxton's strikeout marks from last year, both in the spring and in the real games. It certainly appears as if he has made some serious adjustments.

Strikeout Rates Spring Training Regular Season
2016 32.3% 35.6%
2017 17.9% --

Seeing the parallels between Buxton's 2016 spring and regular season strikeout rates shouldn't be a surprise. Strikeout rates stabilize after 60 plate appearances, according to FanGraphs, and Buxton went to the dish 62 times last spring.

Again, we're only at 39 plate appearances this spring, but the gap in strikeout rates here is enough to make note. In order to push his strikeout rate higher this year than it was last year in the spring, Buxton would need to strikeout in each of his next nine plate appearances. It could happen; it's just not overly likely.

We can see a similar thread with Buxton's walk rate. His three walks this spring aren't a lot, but he has already equaled his walks from last spring.

Walk Rates Spring Training Regular Season
2016 4.8% 6.9%
2017 7.7% --

If Buxton can draw more walks, it'll boost his sunken on-base percentage and help account for the times he does whiff. He could still use some improvement in this arena, but it is at least a start.

We can't begin to fully start drawing conclusions on these until the sample size gets a bit larger. But with fantasy drafts coming up this weekend, we do need to start reacting, and it seems as if Buxton should be inching up draft boards.

An Improving Situation

It's possible that -- despite the data -- you're not convinced Buxton is truly a new hitter until you see it in a real game. That's totally understandable. You may be more interested, then, in Buxton's improving situation, which doesn't look at all at his results in the spring.

Last year, 88.5% of Buxton's 331 plate appearances came as the ninth hitter in the Twins' batting order. Only 3.6% of them came outside of the bottom third of the order. That's a suck hole for fantasy production due to the decreased volume and talent of surrounding hitters.

Spring has been a different story. Buxton has played in 13 games, and here are the spots he has hit in the order and how many times he has been there.

Spot in Order Occurrences
1st 9
2nd 2
3rd 1
5th 1

Most of those times in the leadoff spot came early in the spring before Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer were playing every day. Even when they've been back, though, Buxton has never been lower than fifth. And it's not as if this has been a lineup of scrubs.

Most of the Twins' regulars were in action for Tuesday's game with the possible exceptions of Kennys Vargas and Eddie Rosario, who were playing in the World Baseball Classic. With the top of the order in tact, Buxton found himself in the two hole.

That's a lot of volume for Buxton, and it would give him plenty of opportunities to contribute in four of the traditional five categories. Are you interested now?

Even if he can't bring his spring strikeout numbers into the regular season, it really looks like he's going to be a big part of this offense. That helps give him a solid floor. His speed and raw talent give him the upside. And you get him for the 195th overall pick on ESPN. This all adds up to make him even more intriguing than he was one month ago.

If you buy into spring training statistics (and the data says you should), Buxton's earning attention with his strikeout rate down early. If you prefer a player with a solid situation, he now has that, too. There's a lot to love here, and you're getting it at a discount.

Until we see Buxton keep performing like this in real games, we can't say for sure that he's turning into the star he was once billed to be. But we can say things are looking up. At his current cost, that's more than enough to justify heavier investment.