Friday, February 7, 2014

On Buxton and the 2012 draft

This time of year is a mixed bag for me (and some others, if some of you are accurately sharing your opinions on Twitter). Because while it's fun to watch the accolades for the farm system roll in, there's no doubt that you feel a What If pang of regret when you see Byron Buxton head the list of baseball's top prospects.

And it probably got worse reading Marc Normandin's piece on Buxton today in which a scout said that Buxton was a "better player than Mike Trout," presumably with a straight face. Jason Parks said a non-Twins executive threw "Willie Mays" out there as a potential ceiling (in a house that apparently has 90-foot ceilings) for Buxton.

As early as April 2012, "general consensus" was that the Astros were deciding between Mark Appel and Byron Buxton. Luhnow visited Buxton's Georgia high school in April 2012 to check in on him. 

Kiley McDaniel wrote at the time:
The interesting thing I found, which is a concept worthy of its own article, is that the scouts who are bearish on Buxton tend to be scouts who currently or recently worked in player development and pro scouting. The guys that have him as a slam dunk number one pick tend to be scouts that do predominantly amateur scouting.

Luhnow said in May 2012 that nobody had really separated themselves as a clear 1-1 in the following month's draft. But it's not as if nobody saw the abilities Buxton has shown in the last 1.5 seasons coming. An NL scout said before the draft that Buxton was "probably the best player" he had ever scouted.

Bobby Heck (remember him?) said the week before the draft that:
We’ve met personally hand-to-hand with the kids and the families that are in consideration. We’ve done a whole lot of reaching outside their group and investigating the village they grew up with and that smaller group. And Jerome Solomon wrote that, "with the Astros in desperate need of top-of-the-rotation pitching," it would be a shock if the Astros didn't take Mark Appel.

Interestingly enough, Kevin Goldstein wrote on June 1, 2012 that the Astros' potential 1-1s grew from Buxton/Appel to include Correa. Meanwhile, the Sporting News interviewed the main MLB Network guys, who all said they would take Buxton with the 1-1 pick. John Sickels ranked the top draft prospects, and ranked them - in order - Correa, Zimmer, Gausman, Appel, followed by Buxton.

And you know what happened next. The Astros chose Carlos Correa with the 2012 1-1 pick and signed him to a $4.8m bonus, which was $2.4m under the slot value for that pick. They used those savings to then go out and sign Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz, whom they paid a combined $2.7m over slot. While the Prospect Matrix isn't showing as much love for McCullers (at this point is the only one of the four major prospect sites who have released their Top 100 rankings to include McCullers. But they did so at #52), Correa is a consensus Top-5 prospect who has drawn comparisons to Alex Rodriguez (minus the steroids and the overall douchiness). When the Astros signed McCullers, Keith Law wrote that the Astros got two of the top 10-15 players in the 2012 draft (with Correa). Jim Callis agreed.

So, sure, it hurts to see "Mike Trout" and "Willie Mays" get thrown around when talking about a guy they Astros passed on. But it's not as though the Astros totally whiffed on Byron Buxton, like other teams whiffed on Mike Trout. Buxton was in the mix, and The Apparatus made a conscious decision to pass. And maybe this is just an exercise in written self-medication, but the Astros got what - at the time, and even now - seem like two top prospects in Correa and McCullers in exchange for passing on Buxton. The Astros signed Correa and McCullers for just over the slot of the 1-1 pick. And the Astros got Mark Appel, anyway.

UPDATE: (This is the point I wanted to make all along): The Astros have a great farm system. So do the Twins. The Astros can't have All The Prospects.