With the Twins needing to open a roster spot for Trevor Plouffe's impending return from the disabled list, Buxton was optioned back to Triple-A on Sunday. He was sadly the obvious choice.
The center fielder's latest stint in the majors was about as fruitless as all that preceded it. While we have seen brief glimpses of promise at times, they have always proven fleeting. Since the All-Star break, Buxton was 6-for-54 (.130) with one double, three runs scored and 19 strikeouts.
His lack of progress at the plate is as obvious from watching him as it is from examining the numbers. After four separate tries with the Twins, and more than 350 plate appearances, Buxton continues to play into the hands of opposing hurlers. He routinely falls behind in counts and is doomed once he gets there.
When Buxton is forced to protect the plate, he disintegrates. With the pitcher ahead this year, he has batted .064 and slugged .115.
He has been one of the worst hitters in the majors since his debut, and isn't really showing signs of improvement other than a modestly improved contact rate. Now, he'll return to the International League, which he clobbered to the tune of a 1.007 OPS following his last demotion. Given that his confidence-building stretch in Rochester yielded no meaningful improvement at the MLB level, one wonders what might change this time around.
On the one hand, you can hardly blame the Twins for choosing Buxton as the odd man out. He looks blatantly overwhelmed by big-league pitching. On the other hand, can we really expect him to make the necessary adjustments against lesser competition? The popular narrative is that Buxton was rushed, and maybe he was, but when he has a .357/.415/.585 hitting line at Triple-A, it's tough to fathom what he has left to gain there.
Paul Molitor said after Sunday's game that Buxton would go down to work on "physical, mechanical things," which presumably means that the outfielder will attempt to shorten his swing to become competitive against tough pitches. Yet, when he's not facing a steady diet of tough major-league pitches, the learning experience can only go so far.
Ideally, the Twins would keep all of their young pieces on roster and allow them to continue growing alongside one another. Plouffe's return threw a wrench into that blueprint because it essentially meant that one of Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Kennys Vargas or Miguel Sano needed to be removed. There was no argument for the others based on merit, so Buck is the guy.
Ostensibly he's going to iron things out in a less pressure-packed environment, but in reality the only way he'll solve his problems is by conquering them here. Unlike others on the roster, there are no questions surrounding Buxton's work ethic, no doubts concerning his commitment to improving. Given the time, he will figure it out.
Will this move accelerate or set back that eventuality? Are the Twins truly doing the right thing for their prized prospect's development, or are they simply sending him away to make room for an aging, mediocre veteran who is almost assuredly on his way out?