The Hangover: Manuel Margot or Byron Buxton?

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.)

Today’s silly topic: If you had to start a franchise (or a fantasy team), are you taking Manuel Margot or Byron Buxton?

This would have been pretty clear cut a year or two ago, but it’s closer now. Let’s run through some different categories.

Prospect pedigree

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.

Edge: Buxton

Hit tool/contact/approach

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.

Edge: Margot

Power

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:

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.

Edge: Margot

Speed/defense/arm

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.

Edge: Buxton

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?

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  • Drakos

    On the matter of K rates I think it’s important to note that all through the minors Buxton has struck out quite a bit more than Margot. The only year Margot had that was close to Buxton’s typical rates was as an 18 year old in low-A.
    I think that power is the main place where the difference always has been and may end up being the differentiator. Will Buxton have enough in game power to offset a lower batting average? I think that will be the question.
    By the way, I’m loving these posts.

    • Thanks, Drakos. Glad to see some people are enjoying these; I’m having fun writing them. And you’re right on, Margot’s definitely had the more encouraging strikeout numbers all the way through. I’m still really excited to see if he can keep this power output up. (Not to this level, but just in general.)

  • GBD

    Nice article Dustin.

    I was shopping news/stats on BBallreference for my latest potential fantasy pickup (Manuel) when I came across your piece. I’m also from Minnesota.

    Margot appears to have more speed than power. That’s why I am looking at the 5’11 180 lb’er.

    He’s ‘tit for tat’ with Buxton in the minors statistically. The local radio wonks are expecting Buxton to set an MLB record this year…………………………………………… For K’s.

    Are you predicting a similar ‘small market’ slump for Margot?
    What is the Boston bump?

    Cheers!

    • GBD

      BTW – Do I drop Maurer for him with Capps coming back?

      Thanks in advance!

      • Hey, thanks for stopping by and reading!

        First of all, I really like Margot, as you can probably tell.

        If you can get him in your fantasy league, I’d definitely pick him up. He’s a rookie, so there’s likely to be some slumps, some mid-season adjustments, etc. but so far he’s had really good at-bats. He’s a good bet to make solid contact, and when that happens, good things are always possible. He should be a stolen base threat, at some point, but he hasn’t done much running so far. He may need some work stealing bases at the major-league level, not so much in terms of raw speed but getting jumps and reading pitchers, situations, etc. And, like I mentioned in the article, I think you might get some sneaky power.

        I’m not sure what they’re going to do with the closer’s role. I know Capps velo has been down a bit, so it’s not yet clear if he’s going to be the same guy he was, or if the Padres will run him right into the closer’s role. I’d probably try to hold onto Maurer for now, just because Saves, and maybe drop someone else if possible.

        Oh yeah, and the Boston bump, well I made that up. But it’s the perceived bump up the rankings that prospects from big market cities like Boston and New York might get. I don’t know if it’s real (it probably isn’t, really), but I just threw it in there.

  • ballybunion

    I’m beginning to think the scouts’ 20-80 ratings and projections, as noted in Fangraphs, was first established and then chiseled in stone, never to be revisited, reviewed or revised. I honestly don’t see Buxton as a future 70 level player, and also think Margot’s 55 is laughably low.

    My suspicion began when Fangraphs did a study of the Padres lineup if they all played at the 90th percentile of their potential. I noted that the stats Wil Myers would accumulate included fewer runs than he had last year, fewer homers than last year, fewer RBI than last year, and fewer stolen bases than last year.

    That led me to ask, 90th percentile of WHAT? If they used the scouts’ present/future ratings from 2011 or 2012, unchanged over the years, that would explain it. The Buxton and Margot ratings were from 2014 and are obsolete by now. This must be the baseball equivalent of Hollywood typecasting!

    • I think you’re onto something. There might be a tendency, in prospect evaluation, to get too caught up in early evaluations. Over the last few years, Buxton’s had injury problems, some uneven performance, contact issues, etc, so maybe it wasn’t fair to still view him as a likely star.

      Then again, you do see guys like Javier Guerra basically fall off the prospect radar in one year when things go wrong. It’s a tough balancing act, really. If a player shows something one year and something else the next year, what is he really? When do you tear up that original evaluation and start over?

  • Daaaaaave

    Good stuff. Margot seems nreveless. Never seen a Padres rookie so confident.
    Who knew this Padres team would be interesting AND exciting?!
    1-4 in the line up have been great so far and the pitching isnt the worst in the league. Its a balancing act but its fun.
    If Schimpf can keep hitting dingers and being the most patient hitter Ive ever seen this team could keep it up.

    • The offense/position players are really fun and the pitching, well, it’s hanging in there for now. I don’t see it lasting, especially with the pitching, but it’s certainly a fun and unexpected start.

  • OldSaltUSNR

    I don’t know much about Buxton, since I haven’t really tracked him. I will say that the reason Margot looks like a future superstar is that he’s achieving what he did consistently in the minors early, at the MLB level. I’ll use the analogy of Ryan Schimpf, and how his insane SLG% figures shocked writers last year. In fact, he was “as advertised”, but folks weren’t watching him much, because of his obvious negatives (mainly defense, and BA). However, what he was doing at the MLB level was pretty much what he was doing at the minors, all along. Obviously, their situations differ significantly, i.e. Schimpf is the type of guy with 1 or 2 tools that gets branded a “AAAA” player (as he still may prove to be), whereas Margot was always viewed as a 4-5 tool player. However, Margot’s “ceiling” seemed to be a little “too good to be true” to many writers, hence, his slightly lower rankings, but he’s doing at the MLB level what he did in the minors, plus a little bit more.

    The thing with the 20-80 rankings is that there are so many prospects, and so few truly “likely stars” in the game, that writers tend to under rank players, in my experience. No writer wants to be the guy who brands a a player as an indisputable “5 tool future superstar”, only to have the guy flame out at AAA, or during his “cup of coffee”, and become a “never was”. Bottom line, Margot is overachieving his minor league figures. No one predicted power from both his past stats, and his body composition, yet in his call-up last September and first couple of games, there it was. What’s exciting about his power is that’s the kind of thing that’s expected as a young player’s body matures (and remember, Margot’s only 22 yrs old.). I’m too lazy to do the research,, but I think he came to camp in 2017 about 15-20 lbs heavier than last year, and that’s significant, particularly if he maintains his CF speed.

    Finally, about the arm, he’s always projected as an average, to slightly plus arm (maybe 55-60), and that’s OK too, for a speedy CF. I think that was another report I’d seen, that he was getting training on routes that was clearly paying off. A speedy CF who takes better routes and gets good jumps on the ball will make you forget his arm, because his positioning will make his throws more effective. Equally impressive has been his AB’s in the lead off position.

    So, in about 1000 more verbose words than the other guys have written, I think Margot’s “for real”, and at maybe “4 1/2 tools”, we haven’t come close to seeing his ceiling. He’s also the kind of player the Padres need for their park, and the ball parks of the NL West in general (i.e. where they play half their games). He’s flat out fast. With him, a guy like Jankowski (the books still open on him), and a guy like Renfroe (fast enough for CF – maybe 65 speed, but with a RF arm, and power hitter), the Padres may have the perfect outfield for their game.