Twins' Buxton, Indians' Lindor are latest top prospects to join MLB
Another day has brought more top prospects to the majors—and this time, it's two of the biggest names in the game. On Saturday, the Twins announced that they were calling up outfielder Byron Buxton—the No. 1 prospect in baseball according to Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com, and the No. 2 prospect in Baseball America's rankings—from Double A to make his major league debut on Sunday. Not to be outdone, the Indians announced late Saturday night that they were bringing up shortstop Francisco Lindor, their top position prospect; BP ranked him fourth before the season, BA ninth. The pair joins fellow top-10 prospects Kris Bryant (who was BA's preseason No. 1), Carlos Correa, Addison Russell and Joey Gallo in the latest wave of elite young talent to reach the Show.
Buxton heads to Minnesota after a sensational start to the year in Double A. In 268 plate appearances with Chattanooga, the 21-year-old righthanded hitter hit .283/.351/.489 with six homers, 37 RBIs, 12 triples and a 51/26 strikeout-to-walk ratio—that despite being roughly three years younger than his average competition in the league. Buxton was also a terror on the base paths, stealing 20 bases and getting caught just twice, and has been a plus defender in centerfield. He's been especially hot over the last month: Since May 16, Buxton has hit .347/.422/.564, and in June, he's slashed a remarkable .370/.444/.435.
All of that was apparently enough to convince the Twins that Buxton needed no further minor-league seasoning or any exposure to Triple A. It's also a welcome sign for Minnesota after Buxton's brutal 2014 season, when injuries limited him to 31 games for Class A Fort Myers and Double A New Britain. A wrist injury cost Buxton the first three months of the year, and he managed just five weeks of action before a concussion suffered in a frightening outfield collision in his first game at Double A knocked him out for the rest of the season. The capper to the year was a fractured finger sustained in Arizona Fall League play that fall. Thanks to all his time on the shelf, Buxton hit just .234/.307/.395 in 2014.
That injury-wracked season slowed what had been a meteoric rise for Buxton. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, the Georgia native jumped four levels in his first two seasons of professional play. Though he didn't hit especially well in his first year, the 18-year-old's tools and promise were enough to earn him top-10 prospect honors from both BP and BA. The next year, Buxton blossomed, hitting an eye-opening .341/.431/.559 for Class A Cedar Rapids in 321 PA, then cruising in his first taste of Fort Myers, putting up a .326/.415/.472 line as a 19-year-old.
Those numbers made him the No. 1 overall prospect for BA and BP going into '14. In its annual that fall, BP had nothing but praise for the young outfielder: "Buxton has every tool imaginable—speed, raw power potential, a cannon arm, a plus hit tool and tremendous defensive instincts—and both the surprisingly advanced plate approach and solid makeup to turn them into tremendous production." BA, meanwhile, gave Buxton 80 grades (the highest possible) on his defense and speed, as well as a 70 for hitting and his arm, and a 60 on his power.
In other words, Buxton is as can't-miss a prospect as you can imagine and a potential season-changer for a Twins team that has unexpectedly found itself in contention. Though Minnesota has surprised with a 33–28 record this year, the team has slumped in the month of June, going 3–9. Saturday's 11–7 loss to the Rangers was the Twins' fifth straight and seventh in their last eight, a slide that has dropped them out of first place in the American League Central; Minnesota is now two games behind the Royals and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Tigers for second. Though the pitching hasn't been good—the team has allowed 4.4 runs per game this month—the offense has also hit a rough patch, averaging just a shade over three runs a game. That includes a miserable .202 batting average and .560 OPS, both worst in baseball.
The Twins could especially use the help in centerfield. On the year, Minnesota's centerfielders are hitting just .252/.291/.292; only its catchers have a worse OPS. That .583 OPS, meanwhile, is the majors' second-worst at the position, ahead of only the Reds. Most of that blame can be laid at the feet of Aaron Hicks, himself a former top prospect in the Twins' system. Having jumped from Double A to the majors and given the starting centerfield job in 2014, Hicks responded by putting together a putrid .215/.341/.274 line in 225 PA, good for a 76 OPS+, as well as some erratic defense in the field.
Though Hicks was sent down midseason and began 2015 in the minors, he worked his way back up to Minnesota at the start of May after starter Jordan Schafer sprained his knee. But Hicks once again fell on his face: He's hit just .247/.293/.301 in 99 PA and is currently sidelined with pain in his elbow. Buxton's call-up suggests that the injury isn't minor, though given how bad Hicks has been in his two chances to date, it's just as possible that the Twins, needing a jolt, opted to hand his job to the more talented Buxton.
Lindor is in the same position as Buxton. The 21-year-old–switch-hitting Puerto Rican has been the heir apparent at shortstop for Cleveland since the Indians made him the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 draft, and though his numbers in the minors weren't as stellar as Buxton's, he still rocketed through the team's system, reaching Double A as a 19-year-old toward the end of the '13 season. He's been in Triple A since the midpoint of '14, and after struggling somewhat in his first taste of the International League (.273/.307/.388 in 180 PA), he's found his footing there this season, hitting .279/.346/.398 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 37/25. Like Buxton, Lindor has been on fire since the start of June: He's hitting .400/.429/.600 in his last 52 PA.
Offense, however, isn't Lindor's calling card. Instead, it's his all-world defense that has vaulted him into the top-10 of prospect lists throughout the game. BP's scouting report notes his "silky smooth actions, lightning-quick hands, soft glove, well above-average range [and] arm to make all of the throws," adding, "He consistently flashes all the attributes to hold status as one of the premier defenders at the position for an extended portion of his career." His defense also earned a 70 on the 20–80 scale from BA's talent evaluators.
That Gold Glove-caliber defense will be a huge boon for the Indians, who are one of MLB's worst defensive teams. By Defensive Efficiency, Cleveland's .668 mark is third-lowest in the game. Neither of the Indians' prior shortstop options—Jose Ramirez or Mike Aviles—has graded out as any better than average defensively at the position. Ramirez, who was the team's Opening Day starter, couldn't make up for that poor defense with the bat either: He managed a pathetic .180/.247/.240 line for a 38 OPS+ before getting demoted to Triple A on June 7.
Will Lindor be enough to get Cleveland out of the early-season hole it dug for itself? After going 7–14 in April, the Indians rallied back into the AL Central picture with a 17–12 month of May, but things have been shakier in June, with the team just 5–6 so far. Cleveland has dropped two straight series and needs a win Sunday afternoon against the Tigers to avoid losing a third. Lindor's defense can only help, but he's unlikely to be an impact hitter, which a slumping Indians offense (3.3 runs per game this month) could certainly use.
Regardless of how well Buxton and Lindor do in their first major-league go-arounds, these won't be temporary promotions: Both are here to stay. And with the pair joining Bryant, Correa, Gallo and the rest of his fellow super prospects—to say nothing of already established young stars like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton—baseball fans have a sudden bounty of riches and talent. Buxton and Lindor's futures, as well as that of the game itself, are exceedingly bright.