It was a simpler time, and it wasn’t long ago. The 2017 Minnesota Twins finished with 85 wins and ended their season with a Wild Card loss to the New York Yankees. Although the success didn’t carry over to 2018, their centerfielder was chief among the reasons that squad was competitive. Byron Buxton won a Gold Glove, was named the Defensive Player of the Year, and finished 18th in American League MVP voting. How crazy is it to think we could see that again?
Back in 2017, the former first round pick was having a season of mediocrity at best. On July 14th, he owned a .218/.292/.311 slash line through his first 84 games. Then hitting the injured list and playing in three games at Triple-A before a big-league return, a new hot streak was started. Over Byron’s final 56 games in 2017 he posted a .298/.342/.541 slash line with 23 XBH (11 HRs) and 13 stolen bases. Already an elite defender, he flashed an elite bat that once had him ranked as the best prospect in all of baseball.
Unfortunately, after that October game in the Bronx, nothing ever carried over to 2018. A slow start was combined with migraines and eventually a broken foot that ended his season at just 28 games played and 94 total plate appearances. It’s unfair to categorize last year as a poor showing for the Georgia native when the reality is that he was hurt and simply never was able to go. Fast forward to where we are today however, and there’s optimism with the slate wiped clean.
The Athletic’s Dan Hayes recently penned a piece after spending time with Buxton this offseason. Added muscle and a September-sized chip on his shoulder, the 25-year-old seems determined to put fort his best effort yet. Where other players have a questionable motor, that has never been the issue for Byron. Talent and desire are all there, but the results have yet to follow the process. We know that players develop at rapidly different paces, and to bet against a guy with everything going for him, this early in his career, seems like a foolish proposition.
Baseball Prospectus’ well-regarded projection system PECOTA recently unveiled numbers for 2019. Minnesota’s starting centerfielder is assumed to miss some time with just 403 plate appearances to his credit. In that time the expectation is a .233/.297/.386 slash line that results in 11 homers and 17 stolen bases. Although that seems like a harsh suggestion and low bar to clear, Buxton’s career line is just .230/.285/.387.
Projection systems are based solely on hard and fast inputs, which is to be expected. The largest outlier in any expectation that this is where things turn for Buxton is predicated almost entirely on the human. A clean bill of health, added muscle, and determination to prove a 2018 decision wrong makes this writer’s gut feel as good as it’s going to get. I’ll take the over on that .683 OPS, and I’ll even suggest he trumps the .728 OPS from 2017. Those numbers will be enough to generate MVP votes once again, and I’d hardly be shocked if there’s an exhibition stop in Cleveland along the way.
Byron Buxton has failed to launch thus far, but I’ll conduct the train that says we’ll see it in 2019.