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Buxton shows tools worthy of No. 1 pick

4/12/2012

Center fielder Byron Buxton of Appling County High School in Baxley, Ga., seems to be on top of most scouts' personal "pref" lists at the moment because of his explosive tools, an incredibly athletic body and the frame to put on more muscle and end up with plus tools in all five categories. He's got some risk attached, but all things considered, he's the best prospect in this draft class.

If you want raw tools, this is about as good as it gets. Buxton is an 80 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale with a 70 arm and a chance to be a 70 defender in center. He's not just fast, he runs easily and effortlessly and is even faster underway than he is in short spurts like home to first. Buxton threw three innings in Tuesday's game and hit 93 mph several times with a decent curveball, so while he's not a top prospect as a pitcher, he did show arm strength and even more evidence of his athleticism.

He's earned physical comparisons to all manner of players; the one that came to my mind when I first saw him was a young Eric Davis, who had that speed/power combination that should lie in Buxton's future.

Buxton has quick wrists and gets good rotation in his right-handed swing and also squared up several balls in the game I saw, although I also saw his swing get long on balls he probably should have taken. He starts with his hands set up by his back shoulder almost fully loaded at the start, and then takes a long stride forward in the box before he gets his hands started.

He rotates his hips well and should hit for at least above-average power down the road, especially once he fills out physically. One odd note in his swing: His back foot actually comes off the ground briefly as he rotates, which isn't good for balance or for power (unless you're built like Frank Thomas).

His at-bats during Monday's game -- an important game against rival Pierce County High School -- were generally very good, save one at-bat where he chased the first pitch with two outs and the tying run on second. He fouled off several pitches but didn't swing and miss, and he put four balls in play -- two singles (one a ground ball), a double and a hard fly ball to right. The double was the most impressive, as it was well struck and he seemed to reach second before the ping of the bat reached our ears.

The concerns on Buxton are pretty straightforward. He hasn't homered this year, so despite homers earlier in his high school career, there are questions about his present power level. He'll be 18&frac12; at the draft, which is old for a high school prospect. He hasn't faced a lot of advanced pitching in his life, since he didn't do much on the showcase circuit and has split time between baseball and football. And his swing can get long.

On the other hand, this kind of tools package doesn't come along very often, and if you believe he'll hit -- meaning he can adjust to better pitching and make some small mechanical tweaks -- he could be an offensive and defensive force in the middle of the diamond, a faster Andrew McCutchen with more value on defense. That's worthy of the No. 1 overall pick, but the team drafting there, the Houston Astros, would have to be sold on his bat first.

Notes

&#8226; Parkview High School, the alma mater of Jeff Francoeur, has a solid prospect for each of the next two drafts. For this year, first baseman Matt Olson is attracting some interest from clubs who like his bat enough to ignore (for now) his commitment to Vanderbilt, with a lot of buzz around the Boston Red Sox having strong interest in him. When he puts a good swing on the ball, it's a really good swing, a smooth left-handed stroke with lots of rotation and great follow-through. But his swing can get very long because he loads his hands deep, and his bat control isn't great. He has an above-average arm, but his lack of speed limits him to first base.

&#8226; Center fielder Josh Hart is a junior right now but is already on the radar for next year's draft thanks to a live body and good bat speed. He's very linear at the plate, slapping the ball but not really driving it, and I had him as an average to above-average runner based on his run times in this game. He met a few balls out in front of the plate when he was fooled by an off-speed pitch. He's worth remembering for next year as a potential center fielder who should make a lot of contact if he recognizes secondary stuff better.