Byron Buxton is considered to be just another country boy around the South Georgia town of Baxley. He owns a four-wheel drive pickup truck, likes to go mud bogging, and enjoys fishing and playing video games with his friends.
He’s also a candidate to be the first player selected at 7 p.m. Monday in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.
“I guess we knew he had a chance to go high when we had an intra-squad scrimmage at the beginning of the season, and 35 to 50 scouts showed up to watch,” Appling County coach Jeremy Smith said.
“Afterwards, a lot of teams came up to me and said ‘We appreciate you doing this for us, but we won’t be back. It’s because we don’t have a chance of getting him.’”
The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder is the biggest thing out of Baxley since Dexter Carter, the former Florida State football star who later won a Super Bowl with the 49ers.
Buxton also starred in football for Appling County, scoring 16 touchdowns as an all-state wide receiver this past fall. But his future lies in baseball.
Scouts have anointed him with the rare five-tool status, meaning he scores the highest grades in speed (38 stolen bases in 39 attempts and reportedly matched Bo Jackson’s clocked times from the batter’s box to first base), power (nearly hit a ball out of Chicago’s Wrigley Field in a home-run derby), arm strength (clocked at 99 mph while pitching, but he prefers to play outfield), hitting for average (over .500 as a senior) and fielding.
“He’s a pretty exceptional player when you consider he brings every tool to the table that we look for,” said one American League scout, who could not be identified because of team rules against commenting on undrafted players. “He kind of combines the electricity of B.J. Upton with the grace of an Andruw Jones, just given the fact that he can go out any single night and affect the game in a different way — with his running ability, hitting, defense and eventually power.
“It’s an intriguing package, and one just in terms of pure raw tools and physicality that we don’t run across with much regularity in scouting. He’s definitely a once-in-a-decade type of talent.”
However, it’s not a sure thing that the Astros, who hold the No. 1 pick and met with Buxton’s family last week in Baxley, will select the Georgia product. There’s pressure on the Astros to pick a more major league-ready player, such as Stanford pitcher Mark Appel.
Buxton, who is nicknamed “Buck,” comes from a middle-class family.
His father drives a truck for a living, while his mother works in the student cafeteria of the local middle school.
Appling County athletic director J.T. Pollock knew that Buxton was special when he saw him as an eighth grader.
“It was just the way he moved. He was a tall and thin kid, but the ball just jumped off his bat. His throwing motion was fluid. Everything he did was fluid. Things just come very easily to him.”
Blessed Trinity baseball coach Andy Harlin was sold on Buxton after he nearly single-handedly knocked Harlin’s team out of this year’s state playoffs a few weeks ago. Buxton scored the winning run in one game after reaching base on a softly hit ball that was fielded nearly perfectly by the pitcher.
“He’s the real deal; he’s as good as advertised,” Harlin said. “The guy throws regularly in the mid-90s. His speed jumps out at you. If he hits a regular ground ball, you’ve got to catch it cleanly and get rid of it because he can get down the line. On defense, he covers the gaps very well and has a big arm. … He’s just a ridiculous athlete.”
“Byron Buxton is the biggest game-changing player that I have seen in Georgia since [Royals outfielder] Jeff Francoeur [of Parkview],” Tattnall County High School coach Josh Cole said in a news release after Buxton was named Gatorade’s Georgia Baseball Player of the Year.
Scouts began to look hard at Buxton at the end of his junior season at Appling County, located 200 miles southeast of Atlanta. Over the summer, he blossomed into a star prospect while playing for the Round Trip II club team.
By that time, Buxton was a sure first-rounder in baseball, but insisted on playing football as a senior. “He made it very clear his future plans were baseball. Football was for fun and to be part of the team,” Pollock said. “We sat down with his father to discuss the [injury] risks, and they were adamant about playing.
“I had nightmares about this kid getting hurt with his baseball possibilities. But it never happened, and he went after it hard.”
After signing a baseball scholarship with Georgia, Buxton helped lead Appling County to this year’s Class AA state championship.
He struck out 18 batters in the series-clinching victory Thursday.
As a pitcher, Buxton was 10-1 with five saves, a 1.90 ERA and 154 strikeouts. At the plate, Buxton posted a .513 average with 35 RBIs. He had only three home runs, but he was pitched around a lot.
Buxton often was asked for autographs after games.
“Buck is just very laid-back, and he doesn’t have to prove he’s better than everybody else by the way he walks around,” Pollock said. “He’s confident, but not arrogant. He’s very grounded, and just a good old country boy.”
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