Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Like Billy Hamilton with the Reds, there is little mystery behind the future leadoff hitter for the Minnesota Twins. Outfielder Byron Buxton is the consensus top prospect in baseball, and he happens to be a prototypical leadoff hitter.
Best Bet: CF Byron Buxton
After a so-so professional debut in 2012, Buxton exploded to start the 2013 season for Cedar Rapids. In 22 April games, the outfielder hit an eye-popping .392/.510/.684 with five doubles, three triples and four home runs. He continued to hit through his time in Low Class-A, finishing with a .341/.431/.559 slash with a fantastic .218 Iso before being promoted to the High Class-A Florida State League.
With Ft. Myers, the Georgia native continued to impress and secured his spot as baseball’s top prospect. In 41 games as the club’s leadoff hitter, he hit .339/.409/.491, though he did spend the remaining 16 games hitting third in the order.
For the season, the former second-overall pick compiled a .334/.424/.520 line with 19 doubles, 18 triples, 12 home runs, 77 RBI and 55 stolen bases in a full season as a 19-year old, which is one of the more impressive seasons in recent memory. He also walked in 13.2% of all plate appearances last season, showing he does not have to hit to get on base.
As I see it, there is only one way Buxton will not be the future leadoff hitter for the Twins: he very well may outgrow the role, similar to Andrew McCutcheon with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Coming through the system as he is, he could provide the best option in the two-hole or third spot to drive in more runs. Like McCutcheon, expect Buxton to earn his early Major League at-bats – possibly as early as 2014 if he has a similar hot start – at the top of the order, then depending on the talent around him, her may need to fit into the middle of the order.
Under the Radar: SS Danny Santana
If Buxton indeed slides into the two or three spot in the order in the big leagues, one of the best options coming from within the organization is Danny Santana. Santana is a switch-hitter from the Dominican Republic that has displayed good speed and the ability to hit for average. He played 131 games for Double-A New Britain in 2013 and hit .297/.333/.386, his best in each category since 2008 in the Dominican Summer League.
In 94 games as the team’s leadoff hitter last season, he performed slightly better at .302/.347/.398. In all, the 23-year old had 34 extra base hits, including ten triples, and was 30-for-43 in stolen base attempts. While the Twins certainly hope Santana will improve on his 4.1 BB% from 2013, which was less than half the league average, he does offer a nice package of tools that fit in the leadoff spot if necessary.