This offseason, the Minnesota Twins signed Torii Hunter to a one year contract worth more than $10 million. While it may be easy to point to him being a leader in the clubhouse, or a defensive liability, or even an offensive producer, there may be a less discussed reasoning behind the Twins making him a key addition this offseason. Torii Hunter has the ability to be known as Byron Buxton‘s insurance policy.
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Even at 39 years old, Torii Hunter has not played in less than 119 games since he was 33 years old. Only twice in his career, has Hunter played in less than 100 games. Last season, Byron Buxton spent time in extended Spring Training due to a wrist injury he suffered. That injury flared up shortly after he returned to Fort Myers, and it ended up costing him the majority of his season. Upon returning to the field, Buxton only was able to play in one game at Double-A New Britain prior to ending his season due to a concussion.
Having played in only 31 games through the regular season, the Twins opted to have Buxton participate in the Arizona Fall League. Although he struggled out of the gate, he eventually found his groove. Unfortunately, just around the time he was settling in, Buxton broke a finger diving for a ball and ended his fall season.
During his first season of professional baseball, Buxton played 48 games between both the Gulf Coast League, as well as spending time in Elizabethton in the Appalachian League. 2013 saw Buxton split 125 games between both Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers. In other words, through three professional seasons, the 21-year-old Buxton has never played in more than 125 games, and twice less than 50.
To this point in his career, Buxton owns a .300/.389/.485 slash line. He’s driven in over 100 runs, and hit over 20 home runs. He has stolen over 70 bases and he’s tripled 24 times. None of that matters if he isn’t on the field.
Enter Torii Hunter…
As a professional, Torii Hunter has made a career of scaling outfield walls, robbing home runs, and taking away base hits. While he is no longer that kind of outfielder, he is able to contribute at the age of 39 because of what he did at the age of 20. Whether Byron Buxton is up with the Twins in June or September, you can bet that Hunter’s goal will be to teach Buxton to play as a professional too.
For the Twins, and for Buxton himself, there is no benefit to being an elite talent that finds themselves on the disabled list (ask Bryce Harper). Understanding that you can implement a win at all costs attitude, and be always on the gas pedal, while protecting yourself for the next play is what makes a professional a great player.
To be great, consistency ends up being the number one factor. A Major League Baseball season is a grind, 162 games is not for the faint of heart. With Hunter in the clubhouse, at Spring Training, and in Buxton’s corner, the understanding of how to control your body and play within yourself will be resonating messages.
It would be fun to see Byron Buxton win the Rookie of the Year, an early call up, hit .300, be an All-Star, yes. It may be most important to see him play through a full season of games though. Look for Hunter to help get him there.
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