Pipeline Inbox: Is Buxton unlucky or injury prone?
MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo answers questions about the game's top prospects
We're closing in on the home stretch in the Arizona Fall League, with the Fall Stars Game serving as a sort-of All-Star break for the prospect-heavy league. As has been my tendency of late, I've tried to focus on AFL-related questions, with each of the quartet of queries below at least giving a nod to the happenings in Arizona.
Should I be worried about Byron Buxton's future? Is he "injury prone" or just unlucky?
-- Zach H., Carver, Minn.
Much more the latter than the former, so while it's been unfortunate that Buxton has missed so much time because of injuries, I don't think there's anything to worry about. He's still the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, and I don't see any reason to remove him from the top spot any time soon.
The injuries the Twins center fielder has suffered are all independent of each other. A shoulder issue caused Buxton to miss some time in 2013 -- his otherwise tremendous first full season -- as well as cut short his Arizona Fall League campaign. Then he hurt his wrist in Spring Training, and that kept him off the field for a long while this past season. Just as Buxton was getting back into a groove of sorts and earned a promotion, an outfield collision in his Double-A debut resulted in a season-ending concussion. Back healthy, he returned to the AFL, only to break a finger diving for a loose ball.
The litany of injuries doesn't look great when written out like that, but there's nothing tying them together. Buxton is not running into walls with reckless abandon. He doesn't keep reinjuring a knee or a hamstring, where a chronic problem would be a concern. So the only worry is that Buxton has missed development time by only playing in 31 regular-season games and 13 more in Arizona. That said, he's going to be 21 for all of the 2015 season, one that will likely start in Double-A, meaning he'll be more than 3 1/2 years younger than the league average.
What is Jesse Winker's best-case scenario comp? Does he have enough power to be a star?
-- Dan P., Memphis Tenn.
Winker has obviously been on radars for a while, starting when he came out of high school and went in the supplemental first round to the Reds after ranking No. 59 on the 2012 Draft Top 100. He's currently No. 2 on the Reds' Top 20 and No. 40 overall. So he's a known quantity.
After watching Winker in the Arizona Fall League on several occasions, I must admit he's rapidly become one of my favorites to watch hit, and I've said on more than one occasion that he might be one of the best, if not the best, pure hitter in the Minors right now. The guy can flat-out rake.
To date, Winker's power has shown up in games at times. His 16 homers during his first full season may not seem extraordinary, but Jay Bruce had the same homer total in five more games played. Winker tore up the California League to start 2014, with 13 homers and a .580 slugging percentage in 53 games before his promotion. Sure, it's a hitting-friendly league, but it points to an ability to hit for power. He got hurt before he really could adjust to Double-A, where he'll likely begin the 2015 season. To answer your second question: Yes, I think Winker will hit for more than enough power, along with his tremendous plate discipline and ability to hit for average, to be a star.
I'll admit, I'm not a fan of MLB comps, so I'm going to punt that question. Winker is not as good a defender as Bruce, but he could be Bruce-esque with the bat, with better average and contact rates and less power.
What do you think Carlos Correa's ceiling is in the Majors?
-- Juan R., Houston
We haven't had a good Correa question in a while, which makes sense, given that his season ended on June 21 with a broken leg. Before the injury, he was dominating as a teenager in the California League (.325/.416/.510). A second-half promotion to Double-A and a visit to the Arizona Fall League all seemed reasonable to expect for the 2012 No. 1 overall pick. There's a reason why we have Correa as our No. 2 overall prospect currently.
Once Correa returns to the field in 2015, he can go back to building off of that very firm foundation, with a start in Double-A not seeming outlandish at all. His combination of tools, work ethic, makeup and feel for the game make his ceiling somewhat limitless. Few question Correa's ability to be an impact bat in the middle of a big league lineup, one who will hit for average and more than enough power to be a potential No. 3 hitter. While many have pegged him for third base because of his size, he's done nothing to show he has to move from shortstop, with one of the best infield arms around and terrific hands. Wherever Correa plays defensively, he has All-Star potential with his bat.
Among Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair, who will have the biggest impact in Arizona for 2015?
-- Michael M., Gilbert, Ariz.
There aren't too many organizations in baseball who can boast three pitching prospects at the top of their rankings like the D-backs can. Bradley, Shipley and Blair are all in the Top 100, and they are currently ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 4 on the D-backs' Top 20. All three spent time in Double-A in 2014, so it stands to reason they all have the opportunity to contribute in the near future.
If things had gone according to plan, Bradley would've gotten there already. But command issues and a minor elbow injury set him back. The good news is the Bradley of old seemed to be resurfacing in the Arizona Fall League. He is the obvious first choice as the answer to your question. I think Bradley will get another opportunity to win a job in Spring Training, and he'll take the lessons learned from last year's experiences with him. Even if he doesn't land a spot right away, he's going to contribute a lot to that big league rotation.
Shipley and Blair are both from the 2013 Draft and thus have just one full year under their belts. Both pitched fairly well upon reaching Double-A, though Blair was more effective and spent more time there. In some ways, he's ended up in the shadow of Bradley and Shipley, perhaps because Shipley was the first-round pick and Blair went 21 picks later in the Competitive Balance Round A. Blair did finish second in the Minors in strikeouts (171, for a 10.0 K/9 ratio) while walking just three per nine. With that in mind, I'll go out on a limb and say Blair will end up seeing more big league time in 2015 than Shipley, with both joining Bradley full-time in the 2016 rotation.