of Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
will be the first player from his school ever drafted in the Major League Baseball draft, and it appears it's a foregone conclusion the senior will be a first-round pick.
Now, only two questions remain: First, how high will he be drafted? And then second, will he sign a professional contract or enroll at the University of Georgia, where he has already accepted a scholarship to play center field for the Bulldogs?
Buxton will have to wait until June to find out the answer to the first question, but the Under Armour All-American already knows the answer to the second.
"I will go to the pros because to be in the big leagues is like a dream come true," Buxton said. "All I can ask for is to get a chance."
Appling High coach Jeremy Smith thinks his star player's chances are pretty good. Smith says scouts from the Minnesota Twins have told him they are "very interested" in drafting Buxton. The Twins hold the No. 2 pick in this year's draft, and if they want Buxton, they most likely would have to draft him with that pick.
"Byron really wants to play major league baseball and now he realizes he's got a chance," Smith said. "He knows what he wants to do and goes after it. It would take [an unexpected circumstance] for him to go to college at this point."
Buxton can do it all – in fact, he possesses all five of the tools that scouts look for, but rarely see in prospects.
- The kid can hit for power and average: The four-year starter hit .597 last year with 10 home runs, 17 doubles, four triples and 42 RBIs. He is blessed with a natural "loose" swing that scouts predict will enable him to hit with even more power and a higher average as he fills into his 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame.
- He has blazing speed: Buxton has been clocked at 3.8 seconds from home to first — he caught 15 passes for touchdowns playing wide receiver in the fall — which not only makes him a threat on the base paths (10 steals and 49 runs scored in 2011), but allows the center fielder to track down fly balls hit into either gap.
"I like playing center field because that position is the head of everybody," he explained. "I like to be the one in charge and leading everyone."
And it's not just his speed that makes him a great outfielder.
"He can cover a lot of ground," Smith said, "and he has a great arm on top of that."
- That great outfield arm is also used on the mound. Buxton enters the season as the Pirates' top pitcher for the second-straight year. The righthander was 6-1 on the hill for the Pirates last season, consistently throwing his fastball in the low 90s.
Ironically, he doesn't even like to pitch.
"I'd just rather play outfield because you get to move around and chase balls down," Buxton explained.
His coach, for one, is glad he's willing to take the ball on the mound.
"Pitching is not what he wants to do," Smith said with a laugh. "But he does it for me … and the team."
Smith says that Buxton is without a doubt the best player to ever put on a Pirates uniform. But while he's been blessed with incredible physical skills, he also possesses a trait you can't teach.
"His work ethic is unbelievable," the eighth-year coach said. "We have an indoor batting cage and he'll go up there late at night and hit for hours. He's the first one to arrive to practice and the last one to leave. He is very, very dedicated."
The honor student is also dedicated to his studies.
Buxton is enrolled in AP and honors classes and genuinely enjoys the student part of being a student-athlete. Because of that, it makes the decision to forego college even more difficult. But he takes solace in the fact that he can always go back to get his college degree … and it won't just be any degree.
"I definitely plan to go back and get my degree in sports medicine," Buxton said with confidence.
For now, Buxton is determined to help lead his team — the Pirates lost just one starter — back to the Class AA Final Four, where last year's squad lost in the semifinals.
"We are going to be pretty good," Buxton said.
June 4 is the first day of the draft. Barring an unforeseen circumstance, Buxton's phone will ring. It's a moment he said he's been waiting for since he was a little boy.
"It will be a dream come true."Jon Buzby is the sports columnist for the Newark Post, a freelance writer, and on the broadcast team for the 1290AM The Ticket High School Football and Basketball Games of the Week. You can reach him at <><="" a="">.="">