The Minnesota Twins announced this afternoon that Byron Buxton, the number two prospect in baseball and the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year coming into the season, and Max Kepler, another Top 100 prospect, have been optioned to Rochester. To replace them, the Twins are calling up former top pitching prospect Alex Meyer and bringing Danny Santana back from the disabled list.
Things have not going as planned for Minnesota this year. With a record of 5-14, and mired in last place in the AL Central, the Twins have had to deal with a stagnant offense, a suspect bullpen, and injuries galore to key pieces like Glen Perkins, Trevor Plouffe, and both Danny and Ervin Santana.
One of the biggest disappointments has been Byron Buxton. After a poor debut last year, the 22 year old has stumbled again after being handed the Opening Day start in center field. Hitting just .156/.208/.289 is bad enough, but it's the way he's done it that's troubling. Buxton's struck out 24 times in 49 plate appearances, and walked just twice. In fact, despite working himself into deep counts, the odds on favorite for the AL Rookie of the Year going into 2016 didn't draw a walk until April 17. While his defense has been stellar, his inability to reach base has severely compromised the value of his speed. In recent days, Buxton has sat as much as he's played in favor of Oswaldo Arcia.
As for Max Kepler, who was called up when Danny Santana hit the DL, he's been largely stuck on the bench, starting only twice and accruing only 14 plate appearances in more than two weeks. It's definitely not a great use of the Top 100 prospect, who needs reps if he's going to develop into the Shane Mack-esque player the Twins hope he'll be.
Ultimately, this is a panic move, in regards to Buxton's demotion specifically. The Twins thought he was ready to start the season, and three weeks in they're changing course. Well, either they were wrong then, or they're wrong now. Even with all of Buxton's strikeouts, if they thought he was good enough to play then, they should feel similarly now. And if they don't? They should seriously question their decision making process. After all, it's not Buxton's fault that he was in the Majors.
Either way, their process is a damned mess. And, either way, they don't trust themselves to help him learn on the job, which doesn't say much for their major league coaching staff. On the bright side, both Buxton and Kepler will have regular playing time at triple A, where they can hopefully demonstrate that they're both ready for the opportunity to play in the Majors.
Meyer was a Top 100 prospect as recently as last year. A giant at 6'9", Meyer has struggled with his control in the minors, in a brief stint last year with the Twins, and during Spring Training. He was switched from starting to relieving last year, but has switched back to start the year. In three appearances (two starts) at Rochester, he's allowed just two runs in 17.1 innings, while striking out 19 batters against just four walks. Given that the status of Ervin Santana's back is unknown, Tyler Duffey took a line drive to the shoulder, and the bullpen threw nine innings yesterday, he'll be the first line of defense for the club tonight, and will presumably be asked to pitch multiple frames. If he's worked out his mechanical issues, the 26 year old has the stuff to be either a very good starter or a truly scary elite reliever. His addition means that, for today at least, the Twins will carry 14 pitchers and only 2 bench players, becoming (perhaps) the first team to ever do that (UPDATE: Nope!). (Somewhere, Casey Stengel and Billy Martin are weeping.)
Santana, who broke through in 2014 but was a disaster last year, will get some time in center field and will serve as the primary backup in the infield, since Eduardo Nunez has taken over third base. Once you factor in defense, Santana is almost certainly not more valuable than Buxton right now. But at least he hasn't proved that yet this year to Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan's satisfaction.
The Twins are bad right now, and may be close to writing off 2016 entirely. This move doesn't make them better in the short term; in fact, it probably makes them worse. But hopefully some additional development by Buxton and Kepler will help the club in 2017 and beyond.