Perspectives: Twins boast best trio of prospects
Buxton, Sano and Meyer have Minnesota excited about the future, for good reason
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Until recently, the Twins provided a sterling example of small-market success. They won six American League Central titles and suffered through just one losing season from 2001-10. Their payroll ranked in the bottom third of baseball for nine of those years, until the team moved into Target Field in 2010.
The last three seasons have been the club's ugliest in Minnesota, however. The Twins lost 291 times in 2011-13, more than any team except for the Astros. The last time the franchise dropped that many games over a three-year period was in 1955-57, when it was known as the Washington Senators.
Fortunately for the Twins, their future is considerably brighter than their recent past because they have one of the game's strongest farm systems. No organization has a better trio of prospects than Minnesota does in outfielder Byron Buxton, third baseman Miguel Sano and right-hander Alex Meyer.
Jonathan Mayo makes a strong case for the Cubs' threesome of shortstop Javier Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant and outfielder Albert Almora. But they and everyone else have to get in line behind a guy universally acclaimed as the game's top prospect (Buxton), the Minors' best power-hitting prospect (Sano) and a 6-foot-9 intimidator with two well-above-average pitches (Meyer). Buxton, Sano and Meyer ranked first, fourth and 28th on MLBPipeline.com's recently released Top 100 Prospects list.
Though Buxton rated as the top prospect in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft and went No. 2 overall to the Twins, he actually managed to exceed expectations in his first full pro season. As a 19-year-old, he batted .334/.424/.520 with 49 extra-base hits (including 12 homers), 76 walks and 55 steals between two Class A stops. He reminded Midwest League observers of Mike Trout -- only with more power and a stronger arm than Trout had when he blazed through the circuit.
Buxton projects to hit 25 or more homers per season in the Major Leagues, yet his power is his worst tool. It's merely above average, while his bat and arm are plus-plus tools, his center-field defense is maybe a half-notch better than that and his speed grades out at the top of the scouting scale.
Sano can't match Buxton's all-around brilliance, but he can beat him in two different tool categories. No Minor Leaguer has more power upside than Sano, who led the Midwest League with 28 homers as a 19-year-old in 2012 and encored with 35 homers (three off the Minor League lead) between high Class A and Double A last season. His bat speed and physical strength allow him to drive the ball out of any part of any ballpark on the planet.
Sano also has a cannon arm. It's a huge asset at third base, though he already weighs 235 pounds and may outgrow the hot corner. Even if he has to move to a corner outfielder or first base, his prodigious power should make him a superstar.
The Twins' inability to find front-line starting pitchers is one of the biggest reasons behind their sudden nosedive. It also prompted them to trade center-field stalwart Denard Span to the Nationals straight up for Meyer in November 2012.
Meyer battled a shoulder strain that limited him to 78 1/3 regular-season innings in 2013, but when he was healthy he showed exactly what Minnesota saw in him. He struck out 100 batters, an average of 11.5 per nine innings. That would have ranked second in the Minors if he had enough innings to qualify.
Meyer was back to 100 percent in the Arizona Fall League, where he threw an easy 94-97 mph on a steep downhill plane. Hitters can't gear up for his fastball because they also have to be on the lookout for his slider, a mid-80s breaker that's a true wipeout pitch at its best.
Meyer should be the first of the trio to arrive in Target Field, perhaps early in the 2014 season. Buxton and Sano are flying through the Minors and could get to Minnesota at some point in 2015. Once they all get established in the big leagues, the Twins once again will be the envy of other clubs.