As last year's No. 2 overall pick and the current consensus top prospect in baseball, Byron Buxton has drawn some lofty comparisons. You often hear his name mentioned alongside similarly well-rounded outfielders who dominated the minors and made a quick impact in the majors, such as Mike Trout and the Upton Brothers.
One commonality between those three players? They all debuted in the big leagues as teenagers.
That won't happen for Buxton, who celebrates his 20th birthday in December. The center fielder is currently playing at Class-A Ft. Myers and there's been no whisper of a possibility that he could see Target Field before season's end.
But the organization's most prized talent also may not be as far off as some would suspect.
In his first taste of full-season pro competition after being drafted last June, Buxton outright dominated the Midwest League this year, batting .341 with a .990 OPS in 68 games to force a promotion to the next level. In Ft. Myers, he adjusted quickly and has been no less dominant in recent weeks. His numbers over his past 25 games, dating back to late July: .413/.522/.641, three homers, two doubles, five triples, a 20:20 K/BB ratio and 17 steals.
Those are the kinds of numbers you put up in a video game when the difficulty setting is too low. Buxton is as out of place in this league as he was in the last.
Yet, with the season winding down (only a handful of games remain on the minor-league schedules) it makes little sense to take any sort of action right now. Almost certainly, Buxton will remain with the Miracle for the ensuing postseason run, and will then be done for the season.
Where might he start next year? And where might he finish?
The Aggressive Route
We don't know yet how Buxton will handle Double-A and Triple-A… but we can probably guess. His talent is so immense that it can almost be assumed the speedy outfielder will make quick work of anything the minor leagues have to offer. Like Trout and Justin Upton before him, Buxton can learn on the job, perhaps following the same path and putting up big numbers as a 20-year-old in the majors.
But jumping straight from Single-A to The Show is basically unprecedented in recent years, at least for hitters. Even transcendent talents like Trout, the Uptons and Bryce Harper spent at least a chunk of time in Double-A and/or Triple-A before reaching the bigs (although they reached those levels more quickly than Buxton did).
The Twins have done much this year to shed their reputation as being conservative with promotions to a fault, but it's still nigh impossible to envision Buxton going straight to the majors next spring. The most realistically aggressive approach I can see would have him starting in Double-A with a chance to force his way into the big-league fold as early as May or June.
The Conservative Route
Buxton is viewed as the future centerpiece of Minnesota's outfield, but the club has much to sort out around him. Aaron Hicks should return to the mix next year, along with Oswaldo Arcia. Presently, Josh Willingham remains in line for the left field job, and moving him to DH probably won't be an option as long as Ryan Doumit is around. Meanwhile, guys like Chris Parmelee and Trevor Plouffe remain on the fringe of the discussion.
I bristle at the notion that the Twins should hold back an elite MLB-ready talent so that Doumit or Plouffe can get playing time in right field, but the existing outfield logjam at the very least eliminates any sense of urgency regarding Buxton's arrival.
It's pretty tough to argue for any truly conservative approach that doesn't involve Buxton struggling in Double-A. I suppose the patient route would be leaving him in New Britain for the entire first half, regardless of his production, and moving him up to Triple-A after the All-Star break if his performance dictates. Buxton would then be in position to appear as a September call-up next year and become a full-time major-leaguer at age 21 in 2015.
The Likely Route
I actually believe the Twins will embrace the opportunity to move quickly with Buxton. He'll start at Double-A next year but if his performance there is anything like it's been at Low-A and High-A this season, the Twins will find room for him in their outfield before the All-Star break.
Under normal circumstances, we wouldn't be talking about young and inexperienced players like Buxton and Miguel Sano as candidates to play in the majors. But, much like with Sano -- and perhaps even more so -- we are talking about a generational talent in Buxton, and the normal rules just don't apply here.
And in addition to the players themselves forcing the issue, there are the realities being faced by the Twins organization. This team is amidst a third straight year of irrelevance. They need to get some of these kids on the field so that fans can see the future instead of constantly hearing about it.
Buxton is the kind of player who will create a legitimate buzz and bring people out to the ballpark. And I believe he'll be doing it in the first half of next season.