In a squad full of newcomers, Twins’ Byron Buxton could still be the greatest – Twin Cities

Byron Buxton has come a long way since making his major league debut on June 14, 2015, about three years after he finished second overall in the 2012 amateur draft, which is good news for the Minnesota Twins.

Once a promising young fielder who struggled to find the shot to keep him in the majors, Buxton will start 2022 from one of four corner clubhouse lockers reserved for the team’s veteran leaders – including Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan, Nelson Cruz and Brian Dozier you.

“Nothing has changed,” Buxton insisted.

The same goat. Same glove, same fast bat, fast legs and work ethic.

It’s a combination that finally came together early last season when he hit a staggering .370 in the first 24 games with nine homers and 17 RBIs before sitting out 101 games overall with a hip strain and broken hand. Despite this, he finished a career-best .306 with 19 home runs and 1,005 OPS.

Imagine having that and another popular veteran leader for a full season.

“If he gets anywhere close to that,” Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, said Friday, “then he’s one of the top players in the game overall, not just as an odds stat.”

It’s the dream and the reason the twins signed Buxton on a seven-year, $100 million contract extension last November.

That deal has been overshadowed by a tsunami of post-lockout maneuvers that have added three starting pitchers and superstar shortstop Carlos Correa in the last three weeks alone, but if, say, Buxton can play 140+ games and finish the season healthy, he might it’s going to be the biggest novelty of 2022 in a very real way.

“He’s in his prime,” said Morneau, now the Twins’ senior broadcast analyst. “Mentally and physically he knows what he’s good at and now it’s all about him having 550 gigs on the plate.”

In Friday’s season opener against the Seattle Mariners at Target Field, Buxton fanned three times and was 0-4. It was a cold start to spring, 45 degrees in first place, with shadows on the turf and 2021 Cy Young winner Robbie Ray , on the hill for the Mariner. The teams scored nine goals together and the Twins lost 2-1.

The question isn’t if Buxton will score this season, it’s if he stays healthy. He only made it one season, playing a career-high 140 games in 2017. Otherwise, he has never played more than 92 in a season. He changed his diet this offseason — “foods to keep inflammation down, foods to reduce pain” — and “changed my workouts a bit.”

But that’s it.

“I didn’t want to change the way I play the game,” he said. “I knew if I felt like trying to change the way I played it would end up hurting me more and maybe worse.”

Buxton was never sidelined by nagging injuries for long; such as the way Donaldson was often sidelined by lower leg issues. His major absences were largely due to accidents — he broke his foot on a rotten point, dislocated his shoulder on the wall of LoanDepot Park in Miami, a stray fastball broke his hand. It’s not that he has weak knees or a bad back.

And Buxton appears to be reinvigorated by the front office’s work this spring to almost completely transform a roster that finished last in the American League Central in 2021.

“We know how dangerous we can be. We have the group to win it,” Buxton said ahead of Friday’s game. “You look around our clubhouse and see what we’ve acquired, it’s going to be fun and exciting.”

He is particularly pleased with the addition of Correa, who has played in the past five AL Championship Series and three World Series. “This is where I can get better if I try to be a leader,” he said.

That desire comes with this corner locker. Yes, he’s the same Buck, but he’s hungry for more.

“I often hear it’s my team, but to me it’s more like our team,” Buxton said. “I still have a lot to learn to get us into the playoffs, to keep us in the playoffs – day after day – and every year people worry about us. That’s our goal in here.” In a squad full of newcomers, Twins’ Byron Buxton could still be the greatest – Twin Cities

Jessica MacLeish

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