At the time, most would have probably guessed no. Buxton appeared overwhelmed at times during his introduction to the big leagues, striking out in 32 percent of his plate appearances and never really settling into a comfortable groove.
Terry Ryan has admitted, with tinges of regret, that he rushed the 21-year-old to the majors out of necessity last summer. Factor in the commonly held belief, right or wrong, that former center field prospects such as Carlos Gomez and Aaron Hicks had their development impaired by a lack of minor-league seasoning, and no one could blame the front office for tentatively slotting Buxton at Triple-A, where he has a grand total of 59 plate appearances.
Halfway through March, however, all evidence points to the contrary. It looks like Buxton has the Twins center field job all but locked up.
What was shaping up to be one of the most compelling position battles this spring has turned out to be rather anticlimactic. As John wrote last week from Fort Myers: "This is clearly not a competition, at least not yet. It's Buxton's job to lose."
The grip has only tightened in the week since that post. John noted at the time that Buxton had started four of the first six games in center; he has started on four of six days since, and the player spelling him has been Max Kepler instead of Danny Santana.
That's a very positive sign for Buck, since Kepler is a likely early cut. Santana, who stood to be Buxton's primary competition in center, is clearly being groomed for a utility role. In the past week he has appeared in all three outfield spots and both middle infield spots.
It's becoming plain to see that the Twins entered this camp intent on bringing Buxton north. And while you might not be wowed by his overall Grapefruit numbers (his .200 average and .561 OPS are almost identical to the marks he posted in Minnesota last year), he's showing the type of progress that reinforces this approach.
On Sunday, Buxton had perhaps his best game yet this spring. He doubled and walked, and scored both times. He had a good day on the base paths, including a heads-up tag on a fly ball.
That sort of stuff is all the Twins are looking for right now from their 22-year-old top prospect. It appears the collective assessment is that Buxton's best plan for learning to hit MLB pitching is to face MLB pitching. Even if that process is still playing out as we head into the regular season, his impact in the outfield and on the bases enables the Twins to let him learn on the job without hurting themselves much if at all.
The narratives connecting Buxton to Hicks and Gomez are conveniently tidy but they've never been all that apt given that Buck is in another class entirely than either predecessor. He has quickly stopped being challenged at each level of the minors, and that's why every prospect publication remains bullish on his status as one of the game's absolute best young talents.
I'm pleased to see that the Twins are ready to let that talent off the leash and don't seem inclined to let their resolve waver on the basis of a couple of dozen exhibition contests.
I'm also excited by the idea of a Rosario-Buxton-Sano Opening Day outfield alignment, with Kepler waiting in the wings. Nowhere is the fruitfulness of Minnesota's pipeline more evident than in the outfield, which is bustling with young talent to an extent we've never before witnessed.