Buxton among future stars blessed with poise
Glimpse of spotlight gives top Minor Leaguers incentive to reach The Show
NEW YORK -- Byron Buxton allowed himself just a moment to soak it all in when he trotted out to center field on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. There was the beautiful ballpark and cheering fans and huge video boards and all the rest. Yeah, he thought, this is a sweet deal.
"I looked around the stadium and couldn't believe I made it this far in a short amount of time," Buxton said. "I'm going to cherish this moment."
Buxton is perhaps the most interesting player in the Minor Leagues. The Twins made him the second pick of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, thinking that because he was just 18 at the time they were going to have to be patient with his development.
Instead, Buxton has flown through Minnesota's system and is hitting .300 at Class A Advanced Fort Myers. He has made a difficult game look silly easy, and whether it's next year or the year after, there are plenty of people who think he's on his way to being one of baseball's next great players.
"You've got to go out and have fun and let the chips fall into place," Buxton said. "I've just got to go play, get my at-bats, get some experience. Hopefully, one day, I'll make it up here."
Buxton knows it may not be long. Once upon a time, the Futures Game was a chance for the public to catch a better glimpse of baseball's next generation of players. That was back when most clubs believed in bringing their young guys along methodically, a step at a time.
That development clock no longer exists. Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Mike Trout helped rewrite the timetable. Or maybe it was simply an evolution of the game, an understanding that the best of the best should be challenged.
Anyway, 19 players from the 2012 Futures Game have already appeared on Major League rosters or the disabled list. And three of the 19 are 2013 Major League All-Stars: Machado, Brewers shortstop Jean Segura and Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez.
Some young players don't even get to the Futures Game. Five players, including Nationals right-hander Taylor Jordan and Indians right-hander C.C. Lee, had their trips canceled when they were summoned to the Major Leagues.
So in every corner of the two clubhouses, there was excitement at being part of this kind of day and anticipation about what's ahead.
"I think that's the purpose of this game -- to experience and feel what the Major Leagues is all about," said Tigers prospect Jordan Lennerton, a first baseman and designated hitter hitting .296 at Triple-A Toledo. "You look in this clubhouse. This is luxury for us. Some Triple-A clubhouses are very nice. But you go down the line here and look at the lockers. Everything is taken care of for us. It's the perfect baseball life. I feel like part of the reason they put this together is so guys like us can experience it and get a taste of it and want it that much more."
Archie Bradley would understand. He's one of the highest-rated pitching prospects in the Minor Leagues and on the fast track to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He, too, saw the Futures Game as representing much more.
Bradley's a big, polished right-hander who has a 98-mph fastball and a knee-buckling curveball. If the D-backs needed him now, he'd probably be ready.
"This is one of those events where you can let it sink in a little bit," Bradley said. "You're on the mound. You're on the video screen. It gives you more motivation to go back and finish the season strong because you realize you're knocking on the door."
Thirteen former first-round picks were part of this Future Game, and there were moments when the talent seemed dazzling. Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson had a terrific at-bat in the second inning, fighting off pitches to get a hit off hard-throwing left-hander Enny Romero.
And there was A's infielder Addison Russell, who played at three levels last season and has impressed virtually everyone with his speed and power. And there was D-backs shortstop Chris Owings making a terrific over-the-shoulder catch in the top of the fifth inning.
It was a day of dazzling young guys showing off their skills, a day when fans of franchises from Seattle to Miami can see a bright future.
"It's a great honor," Angels infielder C.J. Cron said. "It's a humbling experience to be in a room full of these kinds of guys. Just to be able to meet 'em all and talk baseball with them has been pretty awesome."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.