Feature Photo: Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
(Photo credit: Jill Weisleder/L.A. Dodgers)
With the beginning of the 2016 MLB season fast approaching, major league-ready prospects are always a hot topic. While a select few names have risen to the top of the crop for the 2016 season – hurlers Lucas Giolito (RHP, Nationals), Julio Urias (LHP, Dodgers), and J.P. Crawford (SS, Phillies) come to mind – a pair of 2012 MLB first-round draft picks separated themselves from the pack in 2015, and they are now widely viewed as the top two major league-ready prospects in baseball.
Byron Buxton, the second overall pick of the Minnesota Twins, and Corey Seager, the 18th overall pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers, both had strong overall campaigns in 2015 that saw them each get a taste of the big leagues. Both play premium defensive positions, with Seager at shortstop and Buxton in center field, though the quality of the tools they offer are very different. Both figure to become fixtures in their teams’ lineups in 2016. Buxton’s 2015 season was certainly an impressive ascension through the minor leagues (.305/.367/.500 across Double A and Triple A), though his mid-season call-up was interrupted by a thumb injury. Seager played 152 games between the minors and majors, and performed well enough with the big club late in the season (.337/.425/.561 in 98 ABs) to earn starts in four of the Dodgers’ five postseason games. Let’s take a closer look at how they compare and answer the question: If you were building a 2016 contender from scratch, which top prospect would you take to anchor your squad?
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ht/Wt: 6’4/215 | B/T: L/R | Age (as of 2/04/16): 21y 10m
Seager’s body-type is more commonly seen at positions other than shortstop. While no one would describe him as “hulking,” the 21-year-old is much larger than the prototypical shortstop, and he has matured physically since he was drafted out of North Cabarrus High School (NC). He features broad shoulders and long limbs, with a solidly-defined lower half, and with some room to fill out his arms and chest.
Some evaluators didn’t give him a chance to stay at shortstop after he signed, claiming he was simply too big to play the position, and they immediately projected him as a third baseman. But he’s worked hard to improve at shortstop. Seager has good hands and smooth transfers, and possesses plus to double-plus arm strength, allowing him to make all the necessary throws. He shows average range and quickness, which will make plays in the hole and up the middle more difficult for him. The Dodgers have made a point to give him reps at third base throughout his minor league career, so his defensive profile should translate to plus defense when, and if, they decide to shift him to the hot corner.
But Seager’s carrying tool is his bat. He produces outstanding bat speed with a simple, repeatable swing. He covers the plate well and uses all fields, routinely driving balls to both gaps. He displays strong pitch recognition skills, easily adjusting to breaking balls and off-speed pitches. Seager has already shown average playable power in games, and that could grow into a plus tool as he finishes filling out.
Aside from being one of the best prospects in the major leagues and a top contender for National League Rookie of the Year in 2016, Seager is also quiet and humble in the clubhouse, and poised and professional on the field. He leads by his actions – a trait both players and managers admire. He figures to be a cornerstone player for the club for years to come.
Byron Buxton, CF, Minnesota Twins
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/190 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of 2/04/2016): 22y 2m
Buxton has the lithe, super-athletic body type that scouts covet. He’s long and lean, with quick-twitch athleticism that really shines in the field and at the plate. What he lacks in present strength, he makes up for in explosiveness.
While Buxton offers true five-tool abilities, his speed is what really stands out. He’s earned 80 grades on his running speed, which makes him a threat on the basepaths and a gazelle in center field. His speed, along with his tracking, reads, and arm, make him a very strong defender – potentially a top five player at the position in the majors. As for how his speed impacts his offensive profile, Buxton was a dominant base-stealing threat in the minors, swiping 94 bases in 276 games. The tool should continue making him a threat on the basepaths in the big leagues, whether he’s stealing bases or rounding them.
At the plate, Buxton uses his lightning-quick wrists to generate elite bat speed, slashing line drives all over the field. He actually hit more triples (37) than home runs (28) in the minor leagues, but as his body fills out, we could see more extra base hits and HRs down the pike, and his power tool could improve to a plus grade. Buxton has posted solid walk and strikeout rates in the minors, so he should continue to get on base at an above-average clip in the big leagues.
The overall package makes for an easy explanation of why he was ranked at or near the top of most every industry prospect list for his entire playing career. And after trading Aaron Hicks, the Twins seem to be ready to showcase the best prospect they’ve had in years. Expect to see Buxton as a fixture in center field for the Twins, perhaps as an all-star, for a sustained period of time.
So, which prospect would YOU build your 2016 team around? Is it the mammoth shortstop with the middle-of-the-order bat? Or the electrifying center fielder? Who ya got?