The clip is so cartoonish that it almost seems fake. A harmless hit to center field that would result in a single for 99.9999999 percent of baseball players.
Byron Buxton represents the other .0000001 percent.
Buxton left a vapor trail on the basepaths as he turned a routine single into a ridiculous double at Detroit over the weekend. No matter how many times it gets replayed, it’s still hard to grasp how a soft flare to the shallow part of the outfield with no misplay by the fielder can end up being a double.
“There are some times I actually think he hits a ground ball to second and he’s thinking double,” Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey joked.
Buxton’s highlight plays are becoming more common and showcasing more than just his defensive wizardry. We’re seeing the player we’ve all heard about hypothetically for years starting to develop into a complete package.
One obvious disclaimer: The season is not even at the halfway mark. Buxton still must prove himself as a hitter over a longer period before concrete declarations are offered.
But something with Buxton looks different. He looks confident, relaxed. He looks like he steps into the batter’s box with a plan and no longer appears overmatched.
Buxton’s defense has always been A-plus, but now he’s on pace for career highs in every offensive category. He is hitting for higher average with more power and creating havoc with his speed.
Defensive players — infielders and outfielders — have an internal clock in their head that has been honed through years of repetition. That clock gets accelerated to fast-forward with Buxton. His speed forces opponents to rush, and that can lead to mistakes.
Buxton showed flashes of being a credible offensive threat the final two months of the 2017 season, but his production this season seems more legitimate and sustainable because his approach is more consistent. He seems to be trusting himself rather than adopting a new tweak in his mechanics every other week.
Buxton heard so many opinions and voices about hitting in previous years (and he’s a willing listener) that his mind probably resembled a teenager’s bedroom. Just full of clutter. Leg kick, no leg kick … he tried different approaches in search of gold.
Now he’s just swinging free.
“The reality is, this guy has unique skills,” Falvey said. “He’s got power, but he also is fast. I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. I think what he’s doing now is he’s just being himself. I know that’s a really simplified way of saying it, but I think that’s really truly what it is.”
One noticeable adjustment is his aggressiveness on the first pitch. Buxton is swinging at the first pitch 39.4% of his at-bats. That’s up from 34% last season and 21.7% in his first season.
His first-pitch swing percentage ranks 26th in major league baseball. As a team, the Twins rank third at 33%.
Buxton is batting .412 with a 1.118 OPS when he puts the first pitch in play.
The team is also handling him wisely by putting Buxton No. 9 in the order day after day. As tempting as it might be to move him up, there’s no reason to mess with something that is finally working.
Maybe the lesson here is patience. Predicting when things will start to click for young hitters can be pure guesswork. Even players with immense talent can look lost at the plate. Buxton has looked so overmatched as a hitter at times that he faced what felt like a career crossroads.
Injuries ruined his 2018 season. He hit .156 in 28 games. Then the organization chose not to make him a September call-up, which angered him and created tension with the new front office. The entire season was a lost cause.
Being healthy again obviously is paramount, but maybe the call-up snub stirred some motivation inside of him. Maybe he’s developed better pitch recognition and a more consistent approach. And maybe it’s just time now.
Whatever the case, the potential we’ve heard about is being put on display in all areas. Hitting, fielding and running bases with the Road Runner’s “meep meep” speed and bravado.
This version of Byron Buxton looks like the cornerstone player that everyone hoped would appear at some point.