Byron Buxton Is a Post-Hype Fantasy Baseball Asset

Buxton disappointed last year, but there are reasons to believe he can produce in 2016.

The Minnesota Twins selected Byron Buxton with the second overall pick of the 2012 draft, having grand expectations for the five-tool high schooler.

Buxton didn’t disappoint early; he was named the 2013 Midwest League MVP, Baseball America’s 2013 Minor League Player of the Year, and a top-two prospect in Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus for each of the last three seasons.

But after a string of disabled list stints and an unimpressive Major League debut, many fantasy baseball owners have soured on Buxton. He missed much of the 2014 season with wrist issues and a concussion, and a sprained thumb forced him to the disabled list in the middle of 2015.

When he was healthy last year, though, his MLB numbers were abysmal:

138 .209 .250 .252 .116 31.9% 4.3 % 2 2

After stealing 94 bases in the minors, the most disappointing stat above is just 2 stolen bases in 138 plate appearances. In this stage of his career, Buxton’s speed should be his greatest contribution in the box score. But when you’re getting on base just 25 percent of the time at the bottom of the lineup, it’s tough to rack up steals.

In addition to last year’s poor numbers, fantasy owners are also turned off by the fact that Buxton will likely begin the season batting ninth in the Twins’ lineup. Despite having the ideal leadoff profile, Buxton has yet to gain the trust of manager Paul Molitor. Until Buxton can prove he is fully healthy and capable of getting on base versus Major League pitching, Molitor will continue to slot him at the bottom of the order.

Based on FantasyPros’ ADP, Buxton is currently being drafted in the 18th round as the 55th outfielder off the board. At this cost, Buxton’s risk is already priced in. If he fails to improve upon last year’s numbers, you cut him as your fifth or sixth outfielder and move on with little consequence.

However, unlike many players being drafted before him, his upside is not factored into his ADP. Buxton has shown the ability to steal 50 bases in the minors; in the 18th round, that’s a worthwhile gamble.

But let us not forget -- Buxton is projected to be a five-tool player.

In addition to his speed, he can develop some power at the plate. Aside from his injury-riddled 2014 season, Buxton posted an ISO above .185 every year in the minor leagues. He will also be one of the best defensive centerfielders in the league this season, which means his glove alone will keep him in the lineup most days.

The Twins believe so much in Buxton that they traded away center fielder Aaron Hicks, a former first-rounder in his own right. Hicks performed admirably in 97 games last season, totaling 11 home runs and 13 stolen bases, but the Twins were willing to let him go to accommodate Buxton.

But what will it take for Buxton to realize his upside? A strong spring will go a long way. The quicker he shows he can handle MLB pitching, the quicker Molitor will thrust him into the leadoff spot -- logically, at least.

Buxton hasn’t had the minor league seasoning of most top prospects.

Mike Trout, while two years younger at this stage of his career compared to Buxton, totaled nearly 500 more minor league plate appearances before becoming a full-time Major Leaguer. With just 1227 minor league plate appearances, Buxton showed his inexperience last year with his inability to adjust to Major League pitching.

While it would be irresponsible to expect a Trout-like leap this year, it would be equally irresponsible to disregard Buxton based on a 46-game sample size.

If Buxton begins the season in the nine hole -- which is entirely likely at this point -- it may be tough to draft him in shallow bench leagues. However, if you have the ability to hold Buxton until he becomes the leadoff hitter, he’s an excellent selection as a reserve outfielder.

We project him to steal 14 bases and post a 0.288 on-base percentage with 9 home runs in 498 plate appearances.