I’ll admit it, a lot of the time I spend thinking about sports is dedicated to absolutely silly stuff.
Where does Tim Tebow‘s throwing arm rank among all United States citizens? (I think it’s in the millions.) What position would Gonzaga basketball player Przemek Karnowski play if his school had football? (Right tackle.) Who would be better at the other player’s sport, Mookie Betts or Steph Curry? (Betts.)
This would have been pretty clear cut a year or two ago, but it’s closer now. Let’s run through some different categories.
For whatever this is worth, and it’s clearly something, Buxton wins this one.
The Twins center fielder essentially ranked as the best prospect in baseball from 2014 through 2016. I remember a time when smart people were comparing him to Mike Trout, and it didn’t seem all that crazy. In 2013, he hit .334/.424/.520 in 125 games split between Single-A locales, with 55 stolen bases and 49 extra-base hits, all as a 19-year-old.
Margot’s always been seen as a Very Good prospect, but even the Boston bump never earned him a spot inside the top 10 at somewhere like Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus, and he never quite showed the all-around brilliance of Buxton as a prospect.
Small sample sizes will get you a lot, but Buxton, right now, is in an almost unthinkable slump. And it’s not one of those bad luck slumps, where every hard-struck ball is finding a glove. He’s somehow racked up 17 strike outs in 30 plate appearances so far this season. That’s scary. Shoot, even Adam Dunn, at the tail-end of his career, only struck out in like one of three PAs. Buxton’s overall major-league strikeout rate has climbed to 36 percent, and he’s never been one to walk a whole bunch. There’s still a talented hitter here somewhere, but right now it’s trapped chasing a slider or swinging late on a high fastball.
By comparison, Margot’s whiff rate in the majors is just 20 percent, and it was far better in the minors (11.5 percent). It’s always dangerous to evaluate someone when they are going really good or really bad, but Margot has a long track record of solid at-bats, so his early big-league success isn’t a total surprise. It’s easy to imagine that he’ll get an even better handle on major-league pitching as he gets more at-bats.
I once traveled two and a half hours to watch Buxton play a minor-league game, and he homered on the first pitch, a high, majestic drive to left field. My viewings aside, Buxton didn’t really show all that much pop until last year, where he hit a combined 21 home runs between Minnesota and Triple-A Rochester.
I’ve drummed up Margot, who also didn’t show much minor-league power, as a sneaky power threat because he simply makes a bunch of good contact, and good contact with MLB pitching will eventually result in home runs. He hit another one last night, his third of the young season:
That ⚾️ is Mar-GONE! Another leadoff homer for Manuel Margot. pic.twitter.com/EWuloDJqpA
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) April 12, 2017
There’s probably a real nuanced argument about power here somewhere, the kind of thing a couple of scouts would discuss on a backfield. In lieu of eavesdropping:
It’s possible that Buxton has more raw power, but that Margot, because of that supreme contact ability and a better overall approach, will show it off more in games. In short, it’s really important to make hard contact with mistake pitches, and Margot’s shown that ability so far. He’s just driving the ball with authority, and he clearly has the physical strength to get the ball out of the park to his pull side.
That’s our argument, anyway.
There’s a very similar profile here on all levels, but Buxton probably has a slight edge across the board.
For what it’s worth, if Margot’s shown a potential weakness so far this season, it’s his throwing arm. Last night he had a chance for two double plays in the eighth inning. The first throw just lacked zip, bouncing a few times before reaching Wil Myers at first. The second one, shortly after, came on the run and was very wild. Something to keep an eye on, but it won’t make or break his game either way.
Remember, this is a Silly Sports Discussion, but gosh darn-it, I’m going with Margot.
I still think Buxton can be a star, and (apologies in advance) I drafted him in both of my fantasy leagues this year, probably higher than I should have. I haven’t even considered dropping him yet. Someone like Buxton deserves a couple more years before being written off as a non-star, and it wouldn’t be that surprising if he went back to hitting at a more expected level today. But 17 strikeouts in 30 plate appearances is scary, especially when you combine it with a past that includes some injuries and performance hiccups.
On the other side, I couldn’t be more excited about a young player than I am about Margot. I know, I know, that’s the small sample size talking, but even getting beyond the early results from this season, there’s just a lot to like here. Margot’s game is padded by wide ranging skills, where he’s good at a bunch of little things, like defense (well, that’s a pretty big thing) and base running. In some ways, that protects his floor. Even if he’s not hitting, he’s still valuable in different ways, as a speedy center fielder. But there’s also a ton of potential in his bat, whether it’s as a high average guy or someone with some legitimate power (or both). There’s a decent chance he’s just a really, really good hitter, and if he is, he’s a superstar type player.
It’s rare that a fan base gets lulled to sleep by one of its own prospects, but it’s possible that Margot is even better than we imagined.
Now, the real question: who’s the better bowler?