The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 17, 2013

Thoma column: The Twins future is closer than you think


The Mankato Free Press

---- — It was a big week for Twins prospects.

Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario moved up to Double A; Byron Buxton wowed everybody with a 3-for-4 performance on a rare televised game that was punctuated with a sensational diving catch at the wall.

All of which raises the question: When might these prodigies reach the majors?

The Twins have reason to downplay expectations. But timelines I’ve seen and heard of 2015 for Sano and Rosario and 2016 for Buxton seem unnecessarily extended. A climb of a level a year is reasonable for normal talents; Buxton is more than a normal talent.

The hardcore truth here is that players like Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe and Aaron Hicks aren’t good enough to keep Rosario, Sano and Buxton out of the majors. The younger three are in the minors, let us say, 70 percent because they aren’t fully ready for the majors and 30 percent because it doesn’t make financial sense to “force feed” them at the highest level.

But those rationales will disappear quicker than one might expect.

Buxton has an intriguing direct parallel in Mike Trout of Anaheim, the sensational outfielder who most in the sabermetric world believed should have been MVP last year over Miguel Cabrera.

Trout was a first-round pick in 2009. He signed with the Angels on July 2 of that year and made his major-league debut just a bit more than two years later (July 8, 2011).

Like Buxton, Trout opened his first full pro season playing for Cedar Rapids (Kernels fans must be getting rather spoiled). Consider these two stat lines:

BA OBP SLG

Trout .362 .454 .526

Buxton .344 .433 .567

Trout had six homers and 45 steals when the Angels moved him up to High A ball after 81 games with Cedar Rapids; Buxton, through 63 games with Cedar Rapids, has eight homers and 29 steals.

If the Trout parallel holds — and I don’t see why it wouldn’t — Buxton will move up to High A Fort Myers soon and finish out the year in the Florida State League. Next spring, Double A in New Britain, and by July, the majors.

Trout was still only 19 when he debuted with the Angels in 2011, and he hardly set the American League on fire that half-season (.220 batting average in 40 games). He opened the 2012 season in Triple A, partly because of a spring training illness and partly because the Angels had a number of foolish big-money contracts in the outfield. But that didn’t last long; after 20 games in Triple A, Trout was in the majors to stay.

We can’t know what physical pitfalls, if any, await Buxton on his march to the majors, but we do know the Twins aren’t stockpiling the like of Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu as roadblocks.

The Trout timeline is the most optimistic, yet reasonable, one for seeing Buxton in the majors: Around the All-Star break next year.

Sano and Rosario are already in Double A, and the Twins have been known to skip Triple A with the best prospects. Either could open the 2014 season in the majors; at the very least they’ll be bucking for a mid-season callup.

The future may be closer than we think. I get giddy thinking about it.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.