Byron Buxton finished his early workout at Target Field on Monday and received some surprising news from Torii Hunter.
Buxton’s name was at the top of the Twins lineup, not at the bottom, after one week of Major League Baseball, 27 plate appearances and not much success.
Buxton said he didn’t have much reaction to that unexpected development. No one would have blamed him for thinking it was a rookie prank.
He hasn’t exactly ripped up big-league pitching since his grand entrance from Class AA ball. He has looked bamboozled by offspeed pitches and produced only three hits with nine strikeouts the first week.
And yet …
We liked Paul Molitor’s decision initially. Even more so after seeing Buxton go 3-for-5 with three runs scored in a 13-2 laugher over the White Sox.
Before the game, Molitor cautioned not to paint Buxton’s move to leadoff as anything but temporary, perhaps lasting only one game. He sounded less certain afterwards.
Hunter gave his endorsement. “That’s where he should be,” he said. “If he can keep that going and have good at-bats like he did, no doubt he’s not going anywhere.”
The whole notion that batting Buxton at the bottom of the order alleviates some of the pressure from the 21-year-old sounds good, but doesn’t make practical sense.
Buxton is rated the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. He has been hailed as an organizational savior. Twins fans began clamoring for his arrival about 15 minutes after he was drafted.
Patience is necessary with any young player, but Buxton is not escaping the pressure that comes with expectation. The spotlight will shine brightly on his every move and every at-bat, whether he hits first, fifth or ninth in the order.
“Just glad he’s got faith in me to hit up in the leadoff spot,” Buxton said.
He made Molitor look smart. Buxton hit a ball to right-center in his first at-bat, one right fielder Avisail Garcia kept from rolling to the wall. That’s a single for most players. Buxton turned on the jets and reached second, then scored in Brian Dozier’s single.
Buxton later beat out an infield single to shortstop for his first multi-hit game, then singled again in the ninth.
Molitor made the switch because he has been encouraged by Buxton’s recent at-bats and believes he’s fared better against lefties, which planted the seed since the White Sox opened the series with struggling lefthander John Danks.
The Twins lineup has been in a collective rut too, so Molitor’s decision also might be borne out of exasperation.
The timing came as a surprise, but it’s worth a shot to see if it ignites Buxton and the entire lineup for more than one game.
“If we were scoring runs at a little better clip, I probably wouldn’t have even considered it,” Molitor said. “If there was a righthanded pitcher up there who could spin it, I probably wouldn’t have considered it.”
Buxton looked anxious at the plate his first week, which just means he’s human. The reality is, no matter how talented he is or how bright his future looks or where he bats in the order, he needs time to develop as a hitter.
“I haven’t seen many players in a long time that can just come up and insert themselves in a major league lineup and be as natural as we will see over time,” Molitor said.
Buxton will become a natural leadoff hitter and fixture at the top of the lineup for years. His speed creates problems, and his on-base percentage will improve as he becomes more comfortable.
That’s the biggest lesson Buxton learned from his first week. Don’t chase bad pitches, which is easier said than done for young hitters.
“I think it just comes down to me being disciplined and having experience in the batter’s box and taking good hacks,” he said.
That awareness will evolve over time. In the meantime, Molitor should give Buxton more opportunity in the leadoff spot.
He certainly didn’t appear overwhelmed or burdened by it in his first taste.