As the Twins emerged as one of baseball’s top teams this summer, the man in the middle of the outfield has been in the middle of this resurgence.
There were never any questions about Byron Buxton’s defense or speed. Even when he struggled at the plate, his fielding would always provide encouragement. Even now, amid an all-around breakout season, the 25-year-old — a Gold Glove winner in 2017 — is still working at his defense.
“It’s still one of those things where I’m still trying to get better each and every day,” Buxton said. “It’s a work in progress.”
For the four seasons before this one, that was a common phrase — work in progress — on the topic of Buxton’s hitting. Still true, but the results of that work have been remarkable, especially in comparison to one summer ago.
Buxton is on pace to set career highs in several key hitting categories. He already has set a new personal best with a team-high 24 doubles — one of those being a nearly unexplainable sprint to second on what looked to be a routine single to center.
“One of those years where things start to click for you,” Buxton said. “You stop worrying about the things that don’t matter.”
The bounce-back year comes after a lost 2018 season, one muddled because of injuries, friction with the front office and a .156 batting average in only 28 games. He didn’t appear in a major league game after May 29. When Buxton wasn’t part of the Twins’ September call-ups, it was the final blow to the former top prospect’s year.
That’s in the past now, and Buxton has been a leader in the Twins clubhouse this summer. His passion for defense has spread throughout this team.
“You see how that rubs off on everyone else,” catcher Mitch Garver said. “He comes in and works hard every day. A real pro.”
Through the years, seemingly everyone was in Buxton’s ear about myriad issues; his swing, his leg kick, the intricacies of baseball. While he listened, the opinions produced varying results.
The advice he leaned on most came from his earliest instructors: his parents.
“My parents were real big into, ‘You need to smile a lot more,’ ” Buxton said. “The more I smile, the more that things seem to be working out. You stay in that positive mind-set.”
Buxton still relies on his parents’ encouragement. While he might struggle at the plate through stretches, the Baxley, Ga., native no longer dwells on the failures.
“I haven’t changed too much,” Buxton said. “I went back to what I did in high school to what made this game fun and what got me drafted. I went back to everything I did in high school, and it takes that weight off your shoulders.”