We could begin with the power, or the speed, or the athleticism that has inspired comparisons with Bo Jackson, Josh Hamilton and Robert Griffin III. But let's begin with the arm, with a tale that has nothing to do with baseball.
True story: Byron Buxton once threw a football 82 yards. It was before a high school football practice two years ago in Baxley, a hamlet tucked away in a thinly-populated swath of southern Georgia. Someone asked Buxton, then a junior and the quarterback at Appling County High, how far he could throw a football. Buxton walked to the goal line, took a half step and launched the ball into the air. Twins scout Jack Powell, who was in town to check in on Buxton—also a star centerfielder for Appling—recalls squinting when the ball finally made landfall. "They measured it out—82 yards," Powell says. "One of the most amazing things I've ever seen."
Powell, 58, has been scouting in the South for more than three decades—he signed Jose Bautista and Matt Moore, and can spin yarns about a young Jackson blazing across the baseball fields of Alabama and of a young Hamilton hitting 500-foot home runs in North Carolina. Of all the players he's seen, only Hamilton rated higher than Buxton: On the 20-to-80 scouting scale Hamilton was an 80 for every tool—power, speed, average, arm and range—while Buxton topped out in every category but power. "Byron was a 70—Josh was an 80 because he was bigger and stronger as a teenager, but Byron will be an 80 eventually," says Powell. "Like Josh, like Bo, Byron could always do anything he wanted on the baseball field—these are guys that come around once every 10 years."
When Walt Whitman wrote, "Gliding o'er all, through all,/Through Nature, Time, and Space," he could have been describing the mesmerizing poetry of Byron Buxton in motion. His 190 pounds of sinewy, fast-twitch muscles are seemingly exempt from the laws of physics. You would call him a man among boys, except for the fact that he's a baby-faced teenager who's been among the youngest on the roster at each of his minor league stops. He doesn't throw baseballs from the outfield, he launches them. He doesn't run across the field so much as float, with strides that are long, loose, almost liquid.
Buxton is so fast that he reaches first on two-hoppers to the shortstop, scores from second on wild pitches and steals bases on pitchouts standing up. In 2012 he carried Appling to its first state championship, not only with his bat and his legs but also as a starting pitcher—he struck out 18 in a shutout in the final and had his fastball clocked as high as 98 mph. The Twins took him with the second pick in the draft, and a year later he is rocketing up prospect rankings (he started this season ranked 10th by Baseball America and was No. 1 on its midseason list) while tearing through the Minnesota system. He began the year at Class A Cedar Rapids and after 68 games was promoted to High A Fort Myers, where at 19 he's the second-youngest player in the Florida State League. In his first 104 games of the season at the two levels he hit .318 with a .402 on-base percentage and 12 home runs, 15 triples and 42 stolen bases. "What he's doing at his age, it's comical," says Fort Myers manager and former Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. "He looks like a god wearing a baseball uniform. Forget the bat. If he were playing centerfield in the majors he'd be a Gold Glover right now."
Barely a year removed from his senior prom, Buxton is already being called, among other things, a baseball phenomenon, the savior of Minnesota baseball, the Next Mike Trout.
And yet, Byron Buxton may not even be the most talented prospect in the Twins system.
No, Buxton, he's the best—he can do everything," insists Miguel Sano, the 20-year-old third baseman from the Dominican Republic who is making his own run at the title of Best Prospect in Baseball. He can do at least one thing better than Buxton: hit the ball a country mile. A product of San Pedro de Macoris, a city teeming with goat-chewed neighborhood fields and milk-carton-gloved boys with dreams of becoming the next Robinson Cano or Alfonso Soriano, Sano was one of the most celebrated baseball stars on the island as a teenager. In 2009 he signed with the Twins for $3.15 million, and he is fulfilling his promise, and more. After putting up the highest OPS of any hitter in 14 years in the Florida State League (1.079) in 56 games with Fort Myers, Sano was promoted to Double A New Britain on June 10. Through Sunday he had hit 13 home runs and slugged .597 with an OPS of .961 in 47 games there. He is already being compared with the great righthanded power hitters in the game, from Miguel Cabrera to Albert Pujols to Giancarlo Stanton.
Sano placed third on Baseball America's midseason prospect list. Soon, perhaps as soon as next summer, he and Buxton will be in the lineup together in Minnesota, resurrecting—the Twins hope—a franchise that hasn't had a winning season since 2010. "Most of us wait a decade to have one guy in our system that's a franchise-changing talent," says the general manager of an American League team. "To have two? It's like having Harper and Trout both, in one organization."
With Miguel Sano, there's only one place to begin: the power.