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Article: Risk Management: Backing Up Buck

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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 09:16 PM

In the fifth inning of last Wednesday's WBC tuneup exhibition, Team USA's Adam Jones got a hold of one from Ryan Vogelsong, sending a drive to the deepest part of center field in Hammond Stadium. Twins center fielder Byron Buxton raced back at full speed and leaped into the air, corralling the ball before crashing into the wall and landing with a thud.

Applause erupted throughout the stadium, but Minnesota's new top baseball executive, recognizing that Buxton is perhaps the single most important asset he's inherited with his new organization, had a different reaction.

"Everyone in the stands is clapping, and my reaction up in my seats is I’m holding my breath for about 10 seconds," Derek Falvey told me. Paul Molitor said much the same postgame.The CBO and skipper exhaled as the young outfielder sprung up and lobbed the ball back into the infield, but it was a play that highlights both Buxton's dynamic capabilities and his nerve-racking tendency to put his body in harm's way.

Buxton has no plans to change. His credo is akin Popeye's: I yam what I yam.

Unlike the cartoon sailor man, though, Buxton can't gain invincibility by chugging down a can of spinach. We've seen this reality play out more than once.

~~~

Buxton is a rare breed. That statement obviously applies to his freakish athleticism and uncommon aptitude for the game, but also to his demeanor. In the clubhouse, the outfielder can usually be found sitting quietly at his locker, occupying himself but remaining approachable. He speaks softly and politely, frequently deflecting praise onto others.

Most strikingly, the prep superstar who went on to become a No. 2 overall draft pick before developing into the consensus top prospect in the game and centerpiece for a franchise, exhibits almost no trace of an ego. Maybe it's because he's still young, or because he hasn't yet turned the corner in the majors. But this genuinely seems to be his nature.

That reserved disposition certainly doesn't manifest on the baseball field. Buxton is a ferocious force in all aspects: barreling around the base paths, careening through the expanses of center field, swinging the bat like he's trying to fell a tree with one hack.

Asked about his approach this spring, Buxton said he's keeping it simple, which proved effective for him last year when he came back in September from a second minor league demotion and blasted nine home runs.

"I can’t worry about where my foot’s landing, where my hands are. I just go up there and see the ball, hit the ball. As long as I’m comfortable, that’s all that matters to me. And that’s what I’m gonna stick with."

"Just coming up there and being aggressive," he added, "ready to attack the baseball."

Two days after I chatted him with him at his locker, Buxton led off a game against Baltimore by turning on a 93 MPH heater from Dylan Bundy and crushing it far over the wall in left-center. He later added a double.

Afterwards, bench coach Joe Vavra used a familiar word to describe what he was observing: "He continues to be in attack mode."

Yes, the unassuming kid from Georgia, whose tentativeness at the plate was a constant frustration while he struck out at a ludicrous 35 percent rate in his first two MLB seasons, is on the attack. That's true both at the plate and in the field.

But of course, going on attack tends to mean leaving oneself vulnerable. The Twins are rightfully doing nothing to discourage Buxton's all-out mentality – "It’s hard to take away a guy’s aggressiveness, and I don’t think you ever want to," said Falvey – but the new regime is certainly aware of Buxton's history.

~~~

In June of 2015, a 21-year-old Buxton became the third-youngest player to ever debut in a Twins uniform. This was made all the more impressive by the fact that nearly his entire 2014 campaign had been wiped out by injuries.

A trying season opened with a left wrist sprain suffered on a diving attempt in the outfield during spring training. He missed the first month, and then in his fifth game back, reaggravated the injury diving into third base. That cost him another two months.

He returned to the field in July, received a promotion to Double-A after 30 games, and then in his first game with New Britain he collided violently with fellow outfielder Mike Kvasnicka at full speed, an extremely frightening incident that left the top prospect unconscious on the field for 10 minutes before he was carted out in an ambulance.

Buxton was fortunate to come away with only a concussion, but his season was over. He did make it back for the Arizona Fall League, which was once again cut short, this time by a dislocated finger suffered while – you guessed it – diving for a ball in the outfield.

The next summer, in his 10th game with Minnesota following a big-league promotion, Buxton sprained his thumb while sliding on a stolen base attempt. Undoubtedly frustrated after all he'd been through, he tried to push through, but struck out four times against Chris Sale the next afternoon and was placed on the disabled list. He wound up sidelined for another two months.

All of this missed time during the crux of his development is probably an underrated contributor to the young outfielder's troubles finding his way at the plate. But now, he has finally been able to put together a sustained run of health. He played 141 total games last year and has reported no issues this spring.

Still, the threat lurks, leading to justifiable anxiety amongst the team's brass each time he goes into the wall. But it's who he is.

"I can’t really be worrying about getting hurt out here," Buxton said. "I'm focused on being myself between those lines instead of trying to be somebody I'm not."

The Twins aren't asking him to be anyone else. But they are cognizant of the inherent risks presented by his style of play, and so it's important to have contingencies in place in case of emergency.

~~~

A desire to build quality depth behind Buxton may have played into the team's decision to sign Drew Stubbs to a minor-league contract during the offseason.

Different people pointed to different attributes when discussing what the veteran outfielder brings to the table. Falvey, whose Indians rostered Stubbs in 2013, pointed to character and clubhouse impact. Molitor was interested in the potential for his right-handed bat on the bench with lefty swingers starting in both corner spots.

But the 32-year-old recognizes a big part of his own appeal.

"I’m a natural center fielder," Stubbs said, "and those are kind of hard to come by when you’re looking for a guy who can fill in."

Of course, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler can fill the spot in a pinch, but shouldn't be there for prolonged periods. Danny Santana was the primary backup last year but may not make the roster as his mistakes continue to pile up.

Zack Granite is in big-league camp for the first time this year and has certainly been drawing some attention, including from the manager. On Saturday, Granite made a play in the center that was positively Buxton-esque, sprinting about 100 feet to the warning track in right-center to snag a ball that looked uncatchable coming off the bat.

"He went a long way for that ball," Molitor said after the game with a hint of wonderment.

Granite was the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2016 and clearly the team likes him. Eventually he could be an almost ideal backup for Buxton. But for now, the 24-year-old hasn't played above Double-A and needs everyday at-bats, so he'll get more time in the minors.

In the present, Stubbs looks to be the front-runner to join Robbie Grossman in the outfield reserves and to serve as a backup if things should go amiss with Buxton.

Of course, we're all hoping that the Buck never stops. But if they can install solid depth behind him, the Twins can breathe a little easier while Buxton stays in attack mode.

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#2 Sconnie

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 09:53 PM

With the questions at pitching and SS I don't see this team carrying 5 outfielders on the active roster. Not sure Stubbs goes north opening day or how long he sticks out AAA.
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#3 Vanimal46

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 10:14 PM

If Buxton is unfortunately injured for a period of time, Granite can and should be called up to play. I concur with Sconnie. No reason to have 5 OF on roster when the game plan is Rosario-Buxton-Kepler playing 125+ games.

If Stubbs clears waivers and accepts playing in AAA, great! Hope he stays with the Twins. If he opts out or gets claimed, oh well.
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#4 glunn

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 10:15 PM

Buxton is potentially worth millions of dollars to the Twins. What would it cost to install the thickest, safest outfield padding possible?

 

I have always blamed bad design for Mauer blowing out his knee when his spikes caught on carpeting at the Metrodome that should never have been where it was installed. Better padding in the outfield might save Buxton's career at some point.

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#5 Hosken Bombo Disco

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 10:53 PM

Great article, Nick. Those injuries were scary but I think Buxton has harnessed his kinesthetic intelligence for MLB and is ready to take off. He might have some down seasons at the plate, but he will always have his glove (and arm).
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When I hear a pitcher is throwing a “simulated game” my first thought is that he repeated the opposing lineup 10,000 times. - Jonathan Judge

#6 markos

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 07:13 AM

 

Of course, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler can fill the spot in a pinch, but shouldn't be there for prolonged periods.

Why shouldn't Rosario play CF if Buxton is out for a prolonged period? I just don't see any evidence that the 32-year-old Stubbs will be any better than Rosario defensively.

 

For me, Rosario is the backup CF, and the question is who will move into LF.

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#7 Seth Stohs

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 07:44 AM

 

If Buxton is unfortunately injured for a period of time, Granite can and should be called up to play. I concur with Sconnie. No reason to have 5 OF on roster when the game plan is Rosario-Buxton-Kepler playing 125+ games.

If Stubbs clears waivers and accepts playing in AAA, great! Hope he stays with the Twins. If he opts out or gets claimed, oh well.

 

Stubbs isn't on the 40-man roster so he doesn't have to clear waivers to be sent down. I don't think we've heard anything yet on whether or not he has an opt-out date. Likely does. 

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#8 Seth Stohs

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 07:47 AM

One interesting possibility I've heard discussed is this:

 

Park and Vargas to AAA.

Grossman the primary DH... extra outfielder (or infielder).

 

Grossman would be the primary DH, but obviously guys like Mauer, Sano, Rosario, Dozier, really anyone could DH on a given day. 

 

In that scenario, the one concern is that Sano will have to play some first base too. But Chris Gimenez can also play 1B, if he makes the team. 

 

I think there are some creative possibilities to start the season that would allow an "extra" hitter on the roster. 

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#9 Steve Lein

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 08:05 AM

My reaction was similar on that Buxton play. Awesome play, and I love that he's fearless... But he still needs to work on his landings. ;)

 

 

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Scouting Report: Power: 30, Hitting: 50, Arm: 60, Defense: 45, Speed: 45. "Line drive swing and shows good contact and on-base abilities. Double's power at his peak. Strong arm from 2B or the OF, stiff hands. Not a fast runner, but above average instincts on the bases. Skinny body doesn't look the part, but will sneak up on you. ACL surgery sapped much of his athleticism." (Probably)


#10 tarheeltwinsfan

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 08:36 AM

"Here's hoping the Buck never stops"...now that's clever, Nick. Thanks for an informative article.

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#11 mikelink45

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 08:57 AM

One comment that struck me in this posting was about extra padding for the outfield.  I do not know what is right, but with Million Dollar assets all over the outfield I believe it would be the responsibility of the league to find a safer method for padding the fences and protecting the players.  It is in the leagues interest as well as the player.

 

Stubbs in AAA is a good protection, not on the MLB roster and like most of the postings I would pull up Granite. He is 24 and most good players are in the majors by 25. 

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#12 Don't Feed the Greed Guy

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 09:08 AM

 

 

Stubbs in AAA is a good protection, not on the MLB roster and like most of the postings I would pull up Granite. He is 24 and most good players are in the majors by 25. 

 I'd like to see what Granite can do in Rochester, first. He has no AAA cred, yet. Also, he can play every day there, and not sit on the bench. 

 

Per the article, he's still my #1 choice if Buxton should go down. 

 

BTW: Nice kid. Got a chance to visit with him briefly upstairs at the Meltdown.

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#13 dbminn

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 09:21 AM

 

One interesting possibility I've heard discussed is this:

 

Park and Vargas to AAA.

Grossman the primary DH... extra outfielder (or infielder).

 

Grossman would be the primary DH, but obviously guys like Mauer, Sano, Rosario, Dozier, really anyone could DH on a given day. 

 

In that scenario, the one concern is that Sano will have to play some first base too. But Chris Gimenez can also play 1B, if he makes the team. 

 

I think there are some creative possibilities to start the season that would allow an "extra" hitter on the roster. 

 

Kepler could play some 1B as well if Stubbs is on the roster.

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#14 Mike Sixel

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 09:36 AM

 

One interesting possibility I've heard discussed is this:

 

Park and Vargas to AAA.

Grossman the primary DH... extra outfielder (or infielder).

 

Grossman would be the primary DH, but obviously guys like Mauer, Sano, Rosario, Dozier, really anyone could DH on a given day. 

 

In that scenario, the one concern is that Sano will have to play some first base too. But Chris Gimenez can also play 1B, if he makes the team. 

 

I think there are some creative possibilities to start the season that would allow an "extra" hitter on the roster. 

 

Also, Kepler can play 1B if needed for some reason.

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I don't know, it is a site to discuss sports, not airline safety.....maybe we should take it less seriously?


#15 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 11:39 AM

 

One comment that struck me in this posting was about extra padding for the outfield.  I do not know what is right, but with Million Dollar assets all over the outfield I believe it would be the responsibility of the league to find a safer method for padding the fences and protecting the players.  It is in the leagues interest as well as the player.

 

Stubbs in AAA is a good protection, not on the MLB roster and like most of the postings I would pull up Granite. He is 24 and most good players are in the majors by 25. 

 

Sounds like we need to bring back the baggie.

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#16 Blackjack

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 12:15 PM

Recently, with a week off on surgical leave, I read a Bud Grant autobiography.One of his main points concerning his players was that durability is just as important as ability.

 

When I read stories concerning Buxton and athletic ability vs his injury history, I think of the song by the Kinks, this verse:

 

Superman, superman, wish I could fly like superman
Superman, superman, want to be like superman
I want to be like superman
Superman, superman, wish I could fly like superman

 

That is Buxton's attitude now but if he doesn't learn to play smarter he won't be much help to the Twins.

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#17 Buddy Holly

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 12:32 PM

Buxton's health is always going to be a concern because of his speed and the way he plays. This is why I don't see Grossman as an outfielder candidate. I cover my eyes every time the ball is hit his way. He makes Delmon Young look like Willie Mays. Keeping Stubbs would be good insurance for defense. The other outfielder for the first half of the season will be Danny Santana, because he can play multiple positions in outfield and infield. Grossman should be competing with Park for the DH which Park is winning at the moment. Winner getting the 40 man spot. Granite is a second half or replacement for long term injury to Buxton or if Kepler has sophomore slump, which is a very real possibility.  Let the Danny Santana hate begin, but he will be on the opening day roster. 


#18 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 01:15 PM

What Buxton needs is a six week course at Delmon Young's School of Outfield Wall Avoidance®.

 

BYTO users will know what I mean by that.

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#19 Nick Nelson

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 01:46 PM

 

The other outfielder for the first half of the season will be Danny Santana, because he can play multiple positions in outfield and infield.

A few years ago when I was talking to a Twins pitcher in the clubhouse, I made the point about Santana's versatility and ability to play a bunch of positions, and the pitcher responded with an eye roll, "Yeah, but does he play any of em well?"

 

That's what a pitcher playing in front of the guy thinks. It's not just fans that are mystified by the team's continuing allegiance to DS. And with new leadership in place, I do believe it ends. Unless it's truly Molitor's call.

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#20 by jiminy

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 03:56 PM

I don't think we should just accept Buxton risking injury during practice. I think dives like that should be strictly forbidden unless the game counts. 

 

And personally I'd be fine with banning dives in the regular season too unless they're in a pennant race.No reckless injuries till 2018. 

 

Even during the regular season, and in a pennant race, you could argue the risk-reward doesn't add up.It's like running a red light to get to work faster.Your productivity may go up by one minute that day, maybe even every day.But you roll the dice wrong one day, just one day, and it was all not worth it, by a mile. 

 

Buxton risking injury to slightly increase the chances of catching a ball is like gambling $100 million to win one dollar.It just makes no sense. 

 

What are the odds that one out, if he makes the catch it, which is far from a sure thing, will win the game, let alone swing the pennant race?Probably lower than the odds that diving turns a single into a triple, as he misses the ball and it rolls to the wall. 

 

Remember when Cuddyer slid head first into third and tore up his hand, ruining his season? That kind of risk is a much bigger danger to your season than the tiny advantage, if any, over sliding in feet first.

 

This macho, knucklehead culture of refusing to do anything to avoid injury should not be acceptable any more than saying it's cool to play Russian roulette. That's what it is.Buxton is not just playing Russian roulette with his own life, he's risking the entire future of the entire team and the hopes of the entire state.The coaches should put a stop to it--at least during practice games.

 

 

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