Is the Minnesota Twins’ Byron Buxton ready for a full Major League season?
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The Minnesota Twins will soon return to their Spring Training facilities in Fort Myers, Florida. Though many pieces of the lineup are set, a few lingering questions remain to be answered before Opening Day. One such question: Is Byron Buxton is ready for another look at Major League pitching?
A Minor League start for Buxton would come as a shock to many Twins fans. Buxton had been pegged as the future of the team, and his 2015 call-up appeared to signal a new era. Torii Hunter was brought back in 2015 as a mentor, and many have speculated that the Twins traded away Aaron Hicks to clear the path for Buxton. Despite the evidence suggesting a large 2016 role, the Twins have not shut the door on the idea of sending Buxton back to Rochester. Paul Molitor has been quoted as saying, “[t]here will be a question about whether Triple-A at-bats are needed for him to start the season or will he make an impression that will be so favorable that we will lean to go with him right out of the chute.”
Buxton only hit .209/.250/.326 with two homers, six RBIs, two stolen bases and 44 strikeouts in 46 games
Reading between the lines of Molitor’s comments, demotion considerations are not inappropriate given Buxton’s rocky debut with the team. Statistically speaking, Buxton only hit .209/.250/.326 with two homers, six RBIs, two stolen bases and 44 strikeouts in 46 games. Public interest appears to be dwindling as well, Buxton’s first appearance with the Twins was overshadowed by the explosive exhibition put on by Miguel Sano. Additionally, the only person to be drafted ahead of Buxton in the 2012 draft, Carlos Correa, was named a 2015 Rookie of the Year.
Given his 2015 performance and his absence from the spotlight, it would be easy for the Twins to send Buxton to Rochester for further development. However, focusing on the numbers from 46 games would be a mistake. Even in light of potential obstacles, the Twins should plan on keeping Buxton with the Major League club if they are serious about developing Buxton into their everyday centerfielder.
Buxton only played 13 games for Rochester before being brought up to the Twins. Prior to that, injuries infringed on Buxton’s development. Over his last 20 starts of 2015, the bat began to heat up, slashing .273/.314/.515. Certainly those numbers are based on a small sample size, but they suggest that Buxton was beginning to blossom into the player many expected. Despite his bat being slow to start, Buxton immediately contributed defensively. A hasty demotion to Rochester not only hurts the big league club defensively, but may also negatively impact Buxton’s development. If the team wants Buxton to adjust to Major League pitching, the greatest learning experience would be to actually face Major League pitching.
Buxton is not immune from the scrutiny and claims to have “worked hard this offseason and probably harder than [he has] worked the last three.” If Molitor’s suggestion that Buxton may begin in Rochester was meant as a threat, it appears to have worked. Hopefully, that extra work will turn into greater production over Spring Training. Setting aside any promises of hard work, statistical projections still predict Buxton to have a greater season in 2016.
A centerfielder performing at the level of Buxton’s 2016 ZiPS would be of great value to the Minnesota Twins. As a 22 year old, ZiPS projects Buxton to hit .266/.310/.405.
Buxton’s largest value to the Twins is in his defense
This slash line doesn’t immediately jump out as spectacular, but comparing it to the .217/.250/.261 of the Twins’ 2015 opening day starterJordan Schafer
highlights that Buxton is an immediate improvement to the club. Although these numbers may not blow anyone out of the water as Miguel Sano had in 2015, Buxton was never expected to be that type of player. Buxton’s largest value to the Twins is in his defense, and his speed will make him an interesting player both in the outfield and between the base paths.
Even at this early stage, he has been projected to be the third best position player bat on the team behind Brian Dozier and Sano. If the Twins place their faith in Buxton, 2016 could be his first of many seasons as one of the best players on the team. Hopefully Buxton’s defense alone will earn him a starting position in center field, allowing the bat to catch up with him. If that is the case, we could have an exciting season on our hands, whether the fans notice it or not.