Tale of the scale: Comparing Buxton, Cabrera
Talented young outfielders have similar skills but vastly different backgrounds
They are not built like the kids next door, and the outfielders don't play ball like them. These young men are in a class all by themselves, and their talents are incomparable, except, perhaps to each other.
Buxton, 18, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound outfielder from Appling County High School in Georgia, topped MLB.com's Top 100 Draft Prospects list. He was the second overall selection by Minnesota in this year's First-Year Player Draft. The 6-foot, 190-pound Cabrera, 16, ranks No. 1 on MLB.com's Top 20 International Prospects list, and he will be eligible to sign with a big league club when the international signing period begins on July 2.
The pair has been lauded for their upside, their similar five tools -- the ability to run, hit, defend, hit for power and throw -- and their makeup. Each has been compared to younger versions of D-backs right fielder Justin Upton. Both are on track for the biggest paydays of their lives.
But just how similar are Buxton and Cabrera?
tale of the scale
"The top guys from the international side like Cabrera, you can certainly compare to domestic side," Rangers farm director Mike Daley said.
The belief is that Cabrera has perhaps slightly more overall power at the moment, but Buxton could develop similar power in the future and has an edge in future hitting ability. Both are good defenders with strong arms that should land them in center field. Buxton's experience against better competition gives him an advantage on defense.
Speed is a dominant tool for both prospects. Cabrera ran the 60-yard dash in an impressive 6.35 seconds in front of scouts in Arizona in March, and Buxton is not far behind.
Buxton's coming-out party came last August when he emerged as the best player at the East Coast Pro Showcase, an annual event run by MLB scouts. Many believed he would be the No. 1 overall selection in the Draft.
"I have seen Gustavo Cabrera multiple times. Fascinating athlete with a chance to defend and hit," one scout said. "However, I couldn't compare this kid to Byron Buxton. Buxton is a freak with special baseball skills that have been tested versus various high school kids across the country the last few years. Their body of work is drastically different, and although I respect Cabrera's talent, he's not even the consensus best player available on the international market, like Buxton is amongst the domestic high school players."
There's the notion that Cabrera will have almost two years in a Minor League system by the time he turns 18, Buxton's age. There's also the fact that Cabrera's games have been limited to play in the Dominican's RBI program and the Dominican Prospect League.
"A true-read comparison would be evaluating Buxton as a sophomore and what he looked like at that age bracket," one international scout said. "Without getting into cultural dynamic and other elements, at 16, an international prospect is basically a sophomore in high school."
But for all of their similarities, there are significant differences. Buxton and Cabrera operate under a different set of rules.
Baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement set the value for the second overall pick at $6.2 million, and Buxton signed for slightly less than that -- $6 million. Also in accordance with the new CBA, the most money a club can pay a player like Cabrera, who is eligible to sign on July 2, is $2.9 million. This is a team's entire allotment to spend on the international market without penalty.
|"It does not matter where a player comes from, because at the end of day, you want him to be in the big leagues. Overall, you want to be firing on all cylinders and getting players from both international and domestic markets to help your club. That's what you want."|
|-- International scout|
Some who argue that Buxton is not millions of dollars better than Cabrera say the system needs to be fixed. Others believe the arrangement works. Puerto Rico's Carlos Correa, taken by Houston with the No. 1 overall selection this year, signed for close to $5 million with the Astros a few days after he was drafted. The Collective Bargaining Agreement set the value of the No. 1 pick in this year's First-Year Player Draft at $7.2 million.
"Whatever happened to wanting to play in the big leagues? Whatever happened to wanting to be a big league player? What other business do you get paid for services not yet rendered?" the international scout said. "There comes a point where they have to play the game on the highest level, and that should be the attraction. Now it's about how much money you can get and it's about being set for life. You want to make money? Play in the big leagues. Ask Derek Jeter. He has a lot of money, and he made it playing in the big leagues."
The prospects' birthplaces also matter, when considering domestic players like Buxton generally have a history against high-level competition, and they play in more games than their international counterparts. The advent of leagues like MLB's Prospect League and the Dominican Prospect League has provided a platform for scouts to evaluate international talent in game settings. However, many in the industry still believe there is a greater risk in signing a 16-year-old international player than an 18-year-old from the U.S.
"With an American high school player, you just feel much better about it," the international scout said. "You get as much information about international players as you do about kids in the U.S., but it's not very credible. If you spend money on an American kid, you get a history of matchups and games played. In Latin America, you see them run 60 yards and take batting practice, but you don't see them in games as much. The more questions you have about a player, the more mistakes you can make."
In other words, signing an international prospect at 16, even one as talented as Cabrera, and developing him into a Major League player is not easy.
"It's a challenge, because you are projecting tools to translate into performance and there is no guarantee," said Bobby Evans, the Giants' vice president of baseball operations. "You get a read on players, but it is not a foolproof process. A lot of prospects in Latin America don't have a track record, even a high school track record that you can measure with, and it makes it a harder task."
That's not to suggest Buxton will have an easier path to the big leagues. Both players could follow a similar path with stops at instructional league, Arizona Fall League and extended spring camp, along with the Arizona or Florida Rookie Leagues to start their professional careers.
Both could end up in the Major Leagues one day, or maybe only one will make it to "The Show." There's also the chance that neither will make it out of the Minor Leagues.
"It does not matter where a player comes from, because at the end of day, you want him to be in the big leagues," the international scout said. "Overall, you want to be firing on all cylinders and getting players from both international and domestic markets to help your club. That's what you want."