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  • Who Will Be Buxton’s Backup in 2022?


    Theo Tollefson

    Byron Buxton is officially locked up in a Twins uniform for the next seven seasons. As exciting as the news is, there is still the question on who will be Buxton's back up to start this extension year in 2022 as his injury history will still have to be considered each season. 

    Image courtesy of Raj Mehta, USA Today

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    Twins Territory can finally take a sigh of relief as late Sunday afternoon multiple sources announced Byron Buxton’s seven-year, $100 million extension with the Minnesota Twins. Buxton’s extension ensures that the Twins will not have to worry about pursuing a new starting center fielder for a long time. However, there is still the likelihood Buxton could miss playing time with an injury in 2022. 

    With Buxton’s injury history still a concern for many, even after this contract extension, the Twins will be weighing their options on who will get the most playing time in centerfield when Buxton is not playing.  

    Right now the Twins have three possible internal choices to back up Buxton when he is not playing in centerfield whether due to injury or a day off from the field. 

    The first option is Max Kepler. Kepler has totaled 84 games in centerfield since 2019 and both he and the Twins front office are looking for him to spend less time in center and more time at his primary position, right field. This does not rule out that Kepler won’t play center field at all in 2022. It’s just more likely that another player will be seen there more often.

    The next likely player to see playing time in center field behind Buxton is Jake Cave. The majority of Cave’s 281 career games have been played in center field and now that the Twins have signed him to a Major League contract for the 2022 season, there could be an increase in his playing time. Cave’s 2021 season was abysmal at best and one that both he and Twins fans want to put behind them. It is likely, at this time, that Cave will be the primary backup to Buxton in centerfield to start 2022. 

    One other option within the Twins organization, and on the 40-man roster, that could see playing time in center field for the team in 2022 is Gilberto Celestino. Celestino’s brief time with the Twins in 2021 did help the team defensively in Buxton’s absence. Yet Celestino showed he is not ready to face major-league pitching. In his time with the club last season, he had eight hits in just 59 at-bats. Celestino will still need time to develop his hitting with the St. Paul Saints in 2022. If his hitting continues to improve, as it did in Triple-A in 2021, it could provide another chance for him to play in center for the Twins in 2022. 

    There is a fourth option currently in the Twins minor league system that is hopeful to make his MLB debut in 2022 and could see playing time in center field if he does get called up. That is Austin Martin. The timeframe on when the Twins second-best prospect could make his MLB debut is still uncertain. Martin split time between center field and shortstop following his trade to the Twins organization near the July deadline. He played 46 games in center and 43 at short for the Wichita Wind Surge. Martin’s primary position may be tweaked by the Twins following the Buxton extension, but if he does get called up in 2022, that won’t rule out any playing time he could see in center field with the Twins. 

    Buxton’s extension with the Twins doesn’t dismiss the fact that the Twins won’t try to add more depth to the outfield either. A utility player like Danny Santana or super-utility player such as Chris Taylor could be options for the Twins to still pursue. Taylor and Santana are examples of players who aren’t primarily center fielders yet can still fill in holes for the Twins at other positions where they’re needed such as shortstop. Taylor would be the perfect fit for the Twins because he can play shortstop and back up Buxton in center. Santana, not so much. Santana has only played 12 games at shortstop since the start of the 2016 season and many more games at almost every other position, including center field. 

    The great take away from the Buxton extension is that the Twins organization can be comfortable with a star centerfielder once again playing out his career with the Twins. Buxton’s injury history does warrant a need to have depth in center field. The Twins have solid options to work within the organization, but  they could still pursue options outside their system to help ensure Buxton has the right players supporting him in center field when he isn’t playing. 

     

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    The Twins would prefer to keep Kepler in right. Of course, they would also prefer Buxton to never or seldom be injured. But a primary reason Kepler didn't play CF last year was battling leg injuries for an extended time. Hamstring IIRC. I have little doubt he'll play some CF this year if 100% again, especially for short stints. 

    Celestino needs more time but I think he's getting close. He would be more if a long term fill in, IMO, until he's ready to contribute as the 4th OF on a permanent basis. 

    I believe Gordon will also play some CF. 

    Hoping Martin can not be rushed and just focus on his developement for most of the year.

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    27 minutes ago, 4twinsJA said:

    I am thinking Kepler, Gordon will be CF back ups to begin year, with Celestino at AAA continuing to develop. Hoping Twins only sign SS as position player-need pitching.

    This seems about right. Someone on an invite or inexpensive, like Niko Goodrum, might also work.

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    18 minutes ago, tony&rodney said:

    This seems about right. Someone on an invite or inexpensive, like Niko Goodrum, might also work.

    I agree. Right away Kepler seems like the right option, but long-term I think it is Celestino with guys like Martin and Lewis also being able to do it.

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    I think the Twins have too many outfielders on the 40 man as it is and they are going to need to make room for pitching at some point.  I have been a Jake Cave backer in the past but it feels like his time has come.  Gordon would be a more versatile player who can play center and bat left handed if Buxton goes down.  If they want a righty then Celestino is close and for as bad as was at the plate honestly Cave wasn't much better last year.  With Buxton signed Cave seems more like a logical cut than someone to sub for Buxton.

    They could use Martin or Lewis there if Buxton went down but I would say the odds are low unless Martins bat just looks too good and they give him a try.  Kepler I don't see playing center.  He grades out OK there but he also seems to get injured in center I think they leave him and his good defense in right. 

    I do hope Martin or Lewis show something next year so we have better options there but we will have to wait and see.

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    2 hours ago, farmerguychris said:

    Just another reason why I think Chris Taylor would be a great signing for us - can start at short, and play CF when Buxton is out.

    Does Nick Gordon play short when Taylor plays CF then? 

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    I think Celestino makes the best "backup" for Buxton. Gordon is probably best as a utility player rather than the kind of player you want to rely upon as a starter trying to fill the hole Buxton will likely leave in the lineup for 80-100 games next year. Celestino will be in his age 23 season and he proved he could hit at AAA. I don't believe a player can learn to make the adjustments they need to make for MLB pitching while playing in the minors. Either Celestino will be able to hold his own and make the adjustments he needs to make at the MLB level or he won't.

    Kepler's sprint speed has dropped off a bit and he posted his worst mark last year at 27.4 ft/sec, down from the peak 28.2 ft/sec in 2016. The median CF with 100+ opportunities sprint speed in 2021 was 28.4 ft/sec. So Kepler was a tick below average at his peak a few years ago, but now, he'd rank as 24th of 28 in that list. Kepler's UZR/150 has plumetted in CF over the past few years as well, though it's a pretty SSS.

    Sprint speed and their rank in the aforementioned list.

    • Buxton 30.0 ft/sec (1st/28)
    • Celestino 28.3 ft/sec (17th/28)
    • Gordon 27.9 ft/sec (20th/28)
    • Cave 27.9 ft/sec (20th/28)
    • Kepler 27.4 ft/sec (24th/28)
    • Rooker 27.3 ft/sec (25th/28)
    • Larnach 26.5 ft/sec (28th/28)
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    I'm not sure we can count on Kepler being on the team this year, especially as FA pitchers keep coming off the board and not landing in Minnesota.

    If he is still on the team come opening day, great. He's option #1. Celestino is probably option #2.

    If Kepler is moved for pitching, then it's probably Celestino as option #1 and Gordon as option #2.

    I think the Twins should put Martin in LF and leave him there. Same with Lewis and SS.

    Cave is probably not going to make it to the opening day roster.

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    Agreed with the OP, Kepler is probably not a preferred option at CF.

    I think Gordon is option 1, Cave is option 2 for Buxton backup.


    I wouldn’t be shocked if he got a minor league deal with ST invite, but if Danny Santana makes the opening day roster… oofda, something went wrong

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    51 minutes ago, Squirrel said:

    How soon for Celestino to be considered the backup? If at all? Another season of ... seasoning?

    I don't want Celestino to be a backup and play once or twice a week. I want him playing every day in Triple-A. Now, if Buxton did get hurt and be placed in the IL, I'd call Celestino up and play him there every day. 

    Gordon is at the point where he can be a part-time player and be a utility guy. 

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    3 hours ago, Seth Stohs said:

    I don't want Celestino to be a backup and play once or twice a week. I want him playing every day in Triple-A. Now, if Buxton did get hurt and be placed in the IL, I'd call Celestino up and play him there every day. 

    Gordon is at the point where he can be a part-time player and be a utility guy. 

    As opposed to what? They have Martin, Lewis, Larnach, Kepler, Buxton, Rooker..... He's not a starter unless two of those are hurt or traded. One of Martin or Lewis is an OF long term or traded. Maybe both. At what point is he up? He's as good as Cave offensively, and better defensively. 

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    10 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

    As opposed to what? They have Martin, Lewis, Larnach, Kepler, Buxton, Rooker..... He's not a starter unless two of those are hurt or traded. One of Martin or Lewis is an OF long term or traded. Maybe both. At what point is he up? He's as good as Cave offensively, and better defensively. 

    Well, fair question, but Martin and Lewis won't be ready until at least halfway through the season. Larnach struggled mightily and probably needs some time at AAA to get his swing back (and he certainly will and will be a star corner outfielder). Buxton's a starter. If Kepler is not traded, he is a starter. Rooker should probably be given an extended run with significant playing time. Kirilloff can play the corners. 

    Did Celestino do enough late in the season at AAA to tell us that he is ready to contribute offensively and defensively in the big leagues? He's only 22 years old. If he beats out Cave, cool, bring him up, but I would want him to play at least 3-4 games per week (and yes, he can play all three spots and did so all 2021 at each level). Maybe they can get him two starts in right field against lefties? Maybe they start him twice a week in left field for defense? Maybe they play him once every other week in center?

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    19 hours ago, PDX Twin said:

    Is anyone else old enough to hear the name Chris Taylor and flash back to the 400-pound Iowa State wrestler who competed in the Olympics back in the 1970s?

    Yes indeed.  Chris Taylor was a very big man.  He was also a professional wrestler back in the day.  He was big.  Way too big I'm afraid.  I believed he died at age 28.

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    I don't like anyone internally. Absolutely not Cave! Kepler doesn't feel comfortable there. The only true CF is Celestino but he's not ready. The ship has past on Taylor, we finally have 2 super utility players in Lewis and Austin that can play there in the future but not now. Although I like Gordon as an utility player I don't want to depend on him there.

    That leaves a short term external option, unfortunately. This should have been done years ago. I'd love a Reynolds (PIT) or K Marte (ARI) type (if they can be had) that can start at LF and sub Buck so we can be solid at CF when Buck is not there

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    I know I left Gordon out of this article when considering him as a back up and that is because with Cave likely to be on the MLB roster Opening Day, I don't see Gordon as the main back up in center. I still see him more as an infielder than an outfielder, but I would not rule him out at all as still seeing playing time in center if needed. 

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