If it feels like you’ve been waiting for Byron Buxton to become baseball’s next great young player for something like 15 years now, chalk it up to a combination of him being the second overall pick in the 2012 draft and the fact that he has remained a fixture at the top of various prospect lists despite not doing much on the field. He played 42 major-league games in 2015 and 92 last year, and with the exception of a nice run last September, both campaigns produced ugly results. The goal this year was for Buxton to finally get his first full season as an everyday player for the Twins, but the results have been, well, ugly.
Buxton struck out three times in three at-bats agains the Tigers last night, bringing his season slash line down to .069/.100/.103. He has two hits and 17 strikeouts in 29 at-bats, and so far looks like an even worse version of the player who hit .225/.284/.420 in 298 at-bats last season. His plate discipline has always been pretty bad, but this year it is a wreck. According to FanGraphs, he’s swinging and missing at 24 percent of the pitches he’s seeing, an increase in nearly 10 percentage points from last season. His whiff percentage, particularly on offspeed pitches, is a nightmare (chart via Brooks Baseball):
This hurts, because Buxton actually did show some promise at the tail end of last season. After returning from the minors on Sept. 1, he went on to hit .287/.357/.653 with nine homers in his final 113 plate appearances. If the final month of the 2016 season felt like Buxton finally turning a corner, the first week of this one has felt like him smashing straight into a wall.
It’s worth remembering that Buxton is still just 23, and that not all prospects develop at light speed like Mike Trout did. And if Buxton had been listed as a top-20 prospect instead of a top-5 prospect each of the last few seasons, it’s possible nobody would being paying too much attention to his early struggles.
None of that changes the fact that Buxton currently looks completely lost at the plate, though, and that the idea of Byron Buxton: MLB Star gets less realistic with every feeble swing.