Twin Mid-Round Mancrushes: Buxton and Sano

The NFBC has ADP data up, and in the hopes of finding a player or players to write about this week, I combed over their draft data. It took until just the third page of drafted players to find a couple of players who sparked my interest. Miguel Sano is carrying an ADP of 114.00 with a minimum pick of 73 and a maximum pick of 157. Teammate Byron Buxton is even cheaper on average with an ADP of 145.33, a minimum selection of 104 and a maximum selection of 187. Both players possess their fair share of risk, but both have ample upside I fully intend on chasing at their respective current investment costs.

Buxton was handed the starting center field gig for the Twins and fumbled it. The plug was pulled on him starting in late April, and from April 26th to May 30th, Buxton received further minor-league seasoning. He recorded 129 plate appearances in that stint in the minors, and he raked with six homers, a .336/.403/.603 slash, .267 ISO, 8.5% BB%, 20.2% K%, 189 wRC+ and four stolen bases. At last, he figured it out! Not exactly. From May 31st through August 5th, Buxton struggled once again with MLB pitching turning in a 6.5% BB%, 33.1% K%, .204/.257/.322 slash and 51 wRC+. Sure, he stole seven bases in eight attempts, but he also hit just one homer, and the steals didn’t come close to covering up the stench of his hot garbage line. Back to the minors Buxton went, and he wasn’t terribly impressive during that stint. Regardless, he was summoned for another look when rosters expanded in September and played at a high level that provides optimism for a 2017 breakout.

The toolsy outfielder tallied 113 plate appearances in September for the parent club. He struck out a bunch (33.6% K%), but he also walked more frequently (8.8% BB%) and mashed. The young outfielder ripped off a .366 ISO while belting nine homers with six doubles and two triples. David Laurila shared some quotes from Buxton that shed some light on his mindset throughout the year. And, of course, there’s also the return of the leg kick to consider. Getting back to the strictly statistical analysis, Buxton hit the ball harder in the last month of the year (29.7% Hard%) than after his previous return from the minors (26.7% Hard% from May 31st through August 5th). He didn’t just hit the ball harder, either. He deployed a pull-happy approach kicking his Pull% up from 41.6% to 56.3%. The center fielder also gave away fewer outs via pop ups cutting his IFFB% down from 20.0% to 4.0%.

The 23-year-old outfielder has a low floor with his high strikeout rate, and he’ll need to prove capable of adjusting to the league adjusting to his approach changes, but after hitting 21 homers in 540 plate appearances split between the minors and majors, 25 homers aren’t out of the realm of possibility. The toolsy outfielder also still possesses blazing speed. He stole 17 bases in 19 attempts between the two levels last season, and 10 of his steals came in the majors despite an anemic .284 OBP. Only 28 players reached the 20 stolen base plateau in 2016. Buxton’s ceiling for stolen bases is well above 20, but he doesn’t need to hit his ceiling to hit that mark. In fact, if he’s able to bump his OBP up north of .300 (league average was .322 last year), he should be a shoo-in for 20-plus steals. If you invest in Buxton, it would be wise to nab some batting-average helpers and safer bets elsewhere in the draft. His power/speed upside makes his current ADP worth paying, though, as the ADP leaves wiggle room for a profit even if he doesn’t fully cash in on all of his upside.

Sano requires a more significant draft pick commitment, but he’s also had more success in the majors and done so for a larger sample. Last year, I boldly predicted he’d be a top-30 ranked player overall. He was barely a top-30 ranked third baseman checking in 26th, and he ranked 64th in the outfield. Whoops. I’m not ready to hop off the bandwagon yet. Sano has top-shelf power and he hit the ball hard. Among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances last year, Sano ranked tied for 16th in Hard% at 40.1%. He also did an excellent job of lifting the ball to tap into his thump ranking tied for 12th in FB% (45.8%). Interestingly, he was tied with Kris Bryant in FB% and ranked directly behind him in Hard% (Bryant’s mark was 40.3%). That’s not where the similarities end.
Check out these tables comparing their work last year.



And now check out these ones comparing the duo’s work since reaching the majors in 2015.



They’re sporting nearly identical marks in BABIP in both tables and have a nearly identical ISO in their careers. Both also have remarkably similar batted ball profiles, and for their careers, they both own a 14.7% SwStr%. Even in an NL-MVP campaign, Bryant’s SwStr% was only one percent lower than Sano’s, yet Sano struck out in 14.0% more of his plate appearances in 2016 than Bryant and has struck out in 9.6% more of his plate appearances than the 2016 NL MVP in their careers. Bryant was able to whittle his strikeout rate down from 30.6% in 2015 to 22.0% last year. Could Sano take a big bite out of his strikeout rate, too? Maybe. It isn’t advisable to project an improvement to a low-20% strikeout rate, but shaving it under 30% might not be a pipe dream.

Perhaps Sano could benefit from a more aggressive approach. The biggest differences in the tables between the two are in their swing rates. One way to avoid the pitfalls (i.e. strikeouts) attached to a SwStr% that’s worse than league average is to attack more pitches in the strike zone than the average hitter. Bryant’s Z-Swing% of 74.2% last year was 7.5% higher than the league average (66.7%). Conversely, Sano gave pitchers more free strikes than the league average hitter by swinging at only 62.9% of pitches in the strike zone. Even if Sano makes no changes to his approach, his strikeout rate rise from 35.5% in 2015 to 36.0% makes little sense. He swung at more pitches in the zone in 2016 (62.9%) than in 2015 (61.3%), improved his O-Contact% (33.8% to 41.7%), improved his Z-Contact% (76.3% to 77.3%) and cut his SwStr% down from 15.7% to 14.0%. Steamer and the Depth Charts project a 31.8% K% this year, and that feels like a very attainable projection. Sano’s raw power and ability to rip the cover off the ball make him a candidate for 30-plus dingers, and I’m bullish on his prospects for hitting north of .250. The Twins’ slugger is nearly a year and a half younger than Bryant, and while I’m not suggesting he’ll play at the same level Bryant did last year, a huge breakout isn’t unfathomable. I’d be willing to pop him as early as his NFBC min pick of 73, and there’s no way I’d let him slide past his ADP of 114.

You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.

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5 years ago

Real interesting comparison of Sano/Bryant. Will definitely be targeting Sano in OBP leagues.