The rapid rise of Byron Buxton
The prep outfielder has emerged as a potential No. 1 pick in less than a year
Byron Buxton's life is about to change forever.
Byron Buxton's life is about to change forever.
Granted, it's already changed significantly in the past year. After an eye-opening performance at August's East Coast Pro Showcase, the Appling County (Baxley, Ga.) senior outfielder vaulted onto the short list of elite prep prospects from the Class of 2012. He cemented his place atop that list this spring by hitting .513 with 17 doubles and 35 RBIs to lead his team to its first state crown.
On Monday, Buxton is projected to be picked early in the first round of the MLB draft, with a legitimate shot at going No. 1 overall. One franchise will offer him a multimillion dollar signing bonus in hopes that he'll pass on his commitment to Georgia and become the cornerstone of their future.
ESPNHS Coverage of the 2012 MLB Draft
• Draft storylines
• Austin Meadows one to watch in 2013
• Draft notebook: Recapping Day 1
• Experiencing the draft firsthand
• Top prospects on dealing with scouts
• Rio Ruiz rebounds from blood clot
• Buxton emerges as No. 1 prospect
• Draft Stock Watch: Final edition
• No. 15 McCullers Jr. left no doubt
• Draft Stock Watch: May 25 edition
• Benching motivated No. 8 Cecchini
• Draft Stock Watch: May 18 edition
• Baseball is a lifeline for No. 14 Eflin
• Draft Stock Watch: May 11 edition
• No. 9 prospect Nay loves to play
• Draft Stock Watch: May 4 edition
• Giolito & Fried: Top 10 teammates
• No. 7 prospect Dahl drawing attention
• Draft Stock Watch: Preseason edition
"Two years ago, none of this was happening," said Buxton, the No. 1 prospect in the ESPN 100. "It's an exciting feeling, and I'm just waiting for the day to come. It will mean a lot. All the hard work will finally have paid off."
While scouts were a bit late to the party, Buxton's mother, Carrie, has known for nearly a decade that her son was the real deal. And she has a T-shirt that proves it.
"I don't bring it out often," she says, "but every now and then, I show it to people."
The origin of the shirt goes something like this: Carrie was attending one of Buxton's 9-year-old rec league games at a nearby park known for its Green Monster-like wall beyond the outfield fence. Buxton stepped up to the plate and got a hold of one, sending it clear of the fence and screeching toward the wall.
A photographer happened to capture Buxton's ferocious swing, and Carrie later emblazoned the resulting photo on a T-shirt as a Father's Day gift for her husband, Felton. To this day, the shirt hangs in her bedroom closet, protected by a plastic bag.
"I didn't know much about baseball," Carrie said, "but I thought, 'Boy, he could hit.'"
In Carrie's eyes, the photo represents the beginning of Buxton's ascent. And it carries extra meaning because it was a present for Felton, who served as the impetus for their son's career by bringing the youngster to his men's league softball games.
"My dad kept telling me to play sports when I was younger," Buxton said. "I used to go to all his softball games. I just wanted to be like my dad, I guess."
Felton was a former high school athlete, but Buxton quickly surpassed his father's athleticism. But just because Felton couldn't keep up with his son on the playing field didn't mean he couldn't find other ways to influence him.
"We raised him old fashioned," Felton said. "We raised him tough and made him respect his elders."
That upbringing manifests itself in any conversation with Buxton. Every question he responds to includes a "yes sir" or "no sir," and coaches around Appling County testify to his modesty and character.
Byron's stepbrother, Felton Jr., also played a vital role in cultivating that mentality. Even with an eight-year age difference separating them, Felton Jr. taught Byron the value of hard work and showed him the importance of being an upstanding member of the community. It's an example Felton Jr. continues to set each day as an engineer in the Navy.
"It means a great deal to him to have Felton around," says Buxton's aunt, Shurby Conaway. "They do a lot of talking, go to the movies and play ball together. Most of the time, younger brothers look up to the older brother for advice and things. He tells Byron to stay positive."
Football was Felton Jr.'s game when he was in high school, and Buxton followed him onto the gridiron as a sophomore. By the time his senior season was over, Buxton had earned multiple football scholarship offers.
"His best position in football was anywhere he wanted to be," football coach J.T. Pollock said. "He was an all-region quarterback, had nine INTs with a pick-six, and he was the punter his senior season."
As good as he was on the gridiron, Buxton always knew his meal ticket would be punched on the diamond.
He announced his arrival on the local scene as a freshman during the region championship game by launching a homer and robbing a hit with a sensational catch in the outfield.
"We knew then we had something special," baseball coach Jeremy Smith said. "He's the best player I've ever had."
During his breakout performance at the East Coast Pro Showcase, Buxton raised eyebrows by beating out a cleanly fielded ground ball to third base and stealing second base with ease. He has the kind of speed that gets in opponents' heads, turning routine grounders into must-see moments and giving pitchers something extra to think about whenever Buxton is on base.
"His speed is what makes him lethal," Smith said. "He puts pressure on everybody. One time, the shortstop couldn't even field it because he looked up to see where Byron was."
Speed may be Buxton's No. 1 tool -- he swiped 38 bags this spring -- but he comes preloaded with so many others that you'd swear Craftsman had a hand in his development. Scouts compare him to modern stars like Justin Upton and Andrew McCutchen, while some look to the past and recall Eric Davis in his prime.
His .513 average as a senior speaks for itself, and he dropped some bombs during the home run derby at last summer's Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field, including one that landed in the second-to-last row of the bleachers. He is smooth on defense, and his arm strength may be the hidden gem amid all his talent.
Buxton has a cannon from the outfield, and he has been clocked at 97 mph on the mound. He doesn't think of himself as a pitcher, but he always answered the call when Appling County needed him. For the season, he fanned 154 in 81.0 innings and finished 10-0 with five saves. He capped his career by entering beast mode Thursday night, striking out 18 in a complete-game victory in the deciding Game 3 of the Georgia Class AA state final.
Now, he has a few days to exhale before the draft, and Buxton plans to make the most of it by getting back to his roots -- fishing with friends or mud bogging in his four-wheel-drive Chevy.
"He's just a country boy," Carrie said. "Where we live is the country. Our neighbors have cows, horses and chickens."
For one major league team, this country boy could become the future face of their franchise.
"It's going to be a big change," Buxton said, "but I think I am a franchise player, and I can do great things and lead a team to the World Series to get a ring."
Buxton will spend the draft with his family and upward of 200 friends at a party to be held at nearby Cross Ties Christian Academy in Baxley. There, Carrie will debut a new T-shirt to complement the original.
This one has a photo of Byron in his high school uniform on the front and the words "MLB 2012" prominently displayed on the back.