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  • Byron Buxton Primed for Big Impact in Short-Burst Season


    Nick Nelson

    Up to this point, Byron Buxton has shown he can catch anything. Except a break.

     

    A major-league career that's been characterized by setbacks and shutdowns was on track to open with another one in 2020, as the center fielder had been expected to miss the start of the season, but now fortune has finally turned in Buxton's favor.

    Image courtesy of David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

    Buxton was behind the pack in spring training 1.0, ramping up slowly as he finished rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery. Opening Day 1.0 seemed an unlikely target.

     

    Incidentally, he also got a late start to spring training 2.0, albeit for a very different reason. Buxton's repaired shoulder is now fully healed, but his arrival in Summer Camp was delayed slightly by the arrival of he and wife Linday's (amazingly-named) second son.

     

    https://twitter.com/dohyoungpark/status/1279243630339899392

     

    With little time lost, Buxton landed in camp this week, passing his COVID test and taking the field Tuesday for drills and batting practice. On Twitter, The Athletic's Dan Hayes provided dubious photographic evidence of this fact, along with some more convincing BP video.

     

    https://twitter.com/DanHayesMLB/status/1280619535268184065

     

    https://twitter.com/DanHayesMLB/status/1280638859240443909

     

    It's no secret that injuries have plagued the 26-year-old in an MLB career that started in 2015, but has seen him appear in 100 games only once. While he had his troubles adapting to big-league stuff, rotten luck has mostly been at the root of Buxton's failure to put together a full quality campaign.

     

    One thing he HAS proven he can do, however, is play at an elite level over a 60-game span.

     

    He did so last year, playing in 57 of Minnesota's first 60 games and slashing .262/.318/.519 with 20 doubles, seven homers and three triples. Through that point, he ranked 16th among American Leaguers in fWAR.

     

    Of course, the injury bug bit soon after, and Buxton went on to start just 24 of the team's remaining 102 games. But those first 60 showed what the superstar talent is capable of, and it wasn't even the height of his potential. We've seen him better.

     

    Let's turn the clock back a little further – skipping over a 2018 campaign that was an unmitigated disaster for Buxton – and rewind to 2017. Here we find the closest thing to a complete season representative of his true ability. He played in 140 games, slashed .253/.314/.413 with 16 home runs and 29 steals, and earned the Platinum Glove as MLB's most valuable defender.

     

    His overall numbers for the '17 season were dragged down by immense early struggles. It was in the latter months, as Minnesota raced to an unlikely wild-card berth, that Buxton's game-changing ability truly emerged.

     

    He started 55 of the team's final 60 games that year, slashing .298/.342/.541 with 11 homers. He also went 13-for-13 on steals, which means you can inflate that slugging percentage for all intents and purposes. During this two-month stretch Buxton ranked sixth in the American League in fWAR, behind only:

    • Josh Donaldson
    • Brian Dozier
    • Mike Trout
    • Francisco Lindor
    • Aaron Judge

    Buxton's ability to make a seismic impact over 60 games is not theoretical. He's done it twice in the past two-and-a-half seasons. Staying on the field for much longer than 60 games in a row has been the issue, but for once, he's not staring down the rigors of a 162-game marathon. More importantly, Buxton is truly at the crest of his physical prime, fully healthy by all accounts.

     

    This is a perfect opportunity for his stardom to truly blossom. In an unprecedented sprint of a season, it helps to have the fastest runner in baseball.

     

    Of course, the flip side of all this is easy enough to see. A shortened schedule also means that any incident for Buxton – another collision with an outfield wall, or a jammed wrist sliding into second – would cost him a huge portion of his season. That's a tough reality. But it's frankly one we've all grown accustomed to, and one the Twins are exceptionally well prepared for, with Max Kepler able to man center and plentiful depth at the corners.

     

    The Twins can be one of the best teams in baseball without Byron Buxton. But if he can hit his stride over these 60 games, his as-yet-untapped upside could catapult them to rarified air.

     

    We've all learned better than to take that for granted. But right now, the stars are aligned for his star to shine.

     

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    You're not wrong - if there's less chances for Buxton to hurt himself, he's likely to be healthy more often than not. Hopefully he will be healthy for the playoffs, if we get to that.
    I liken Buxton to an NFL QB who refuses to slide or go out of bounds to avoid hits. Yes, Buxton should go all out every play. He has still has to find a way to stay on the field and not play reckless. Yes, it's a fine line that cannot be defined. Buxton needs to thread that needle, though.
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    I love speed on the team both in the field and on the bases.  I loved the Aparicio/Fox go-go White Sox, the Whitey Herzog's Cardinals with Vince Coleman and Willie McGee.

     

    In 2019 we were ranked 7th fastest among the teams - KC led the way and then it is all playoff teams  https://www.mlb.com/news/fastest-teams-in-baseball-for-2019  

     

    Please stay healthy and tear around the bases, but not into walls. 

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    Ah, I see we’re back on the “in order for Buxton to be great, he should stop doing what makes him great,” conversation.

     

    The same people who say that are going to call for his head when his WPA/WAR numbers go through the floor (unless he starts hitting like he did the second half of 2017).

     

    Sure, he’s not helping much if he’s not on the field. He’s also not if he throttles down and becomes a replacement level player. I don’t get the argument.

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    ... I really believe he can set records for the most doubles in a season. Does anyone know what that would be?

     

    The most doubles by a franchise player (Senators/Twins) is Mickey Vernon's 51 in 1946. Morneau leads the Twins with 47 in 2008. 

     

    Last year, Nick Castellanos set the all-time record of 58 playing for the Tigers & Cubs.

     

    Somewhere recently I read that Buxton says he is going to be more mindful of fences. If that helps keep him off the IL, I'm all for it!

     

     

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    His talent is clear.  His impact is clear.  He's a great kid and a great ball-player.

     

    His durability?  A major question mark and until we see a season in which injuries don't flare up for random, odd reasons, it's going to remain a question mark.

     

    At some point a series of events we keep calling bad luck may not be luck at all, but a sign of something he simply can't avoid.  I sincerely hope that isn't the case.

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    He reminds me so much of two great Minnesota athletes a generation ago. (And sorry that I've stated this before). He reminds me of Robert Smith of the Vikings and Torri Hunter. Smith learned from Tony Dorsett that you have to preserve your body for a full season because your team needs you for that full season. And sometimes fighting for that extra yard just isn't worth what you give up later if you aren't out on the field. His career took off after that, co-incidence or not. Hunter learned to conserve his body after a few early injuries early on in his career as well.

     

    I may be wrong but after harping for some time now that I wished Hunter would work with Buxton to offer perspective and tutelage, I believe he did so at some point late last year, this last off-season or during ST 1.0.

     

    Buxton can be outstanding while still pulling up here and there. I know he loves being great defensively. But he can still be great 8 or 9 out of 10 plays by NOT risking himself physically. And I would gladly have him NOT make 4-5-6 outstanding plays over the course of a season to keep him on the field and in the lineup on a mostly daily basis. Offensively and defensively, a healthy and productive Buxton would more than make up for those handful of plays he "could have made" if he had risked injury.

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    Buxton still has a lot of untapped potential, when he get`s it all together watch out. He`s exciting to watch, expecting a lot of excitement from him this year!

    Something I forgot to mention was when I saw Buxton in the photo, he seemed like a different person. W/ fierce determination like he was ready to not only break out but explode

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