Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said that as long as Byron Buxton can contribute defensively and on the base paths, and as long as the Twins keep finding a way to stay in contention, there won’t be a reason to send the 21-year-old center fielder back to the minors even though he has only three hits in 25 at-bats for a .120 batting average through his first eight days in the major leagues.
“Depending on all the things that surround him, if we’re winning games and he’s helping us win games on the defensive side of the ball and running the bases and so forth, we can wait on the bat,” Ryan said. “Obviously a lot of things take care of themselves when you win, and some of the mistakes that are made you don’t pay as much attention to. But we’re also anticipating him producing and contributing because he’s certainly capable.”
Buxton, who was hitting .283 at Class AA Chattanooga, has struck out nine times in eight games, good for 36 percent of his at-bats. But over the past two games he has shown better plate discipline, drawing two walks Saturday against the Cubs and getting a single and his first stolen base in Sunday’s 8-0 loss.
If you want to compare Buxton’s debut with the greatest center fielder in Twins history, you will see that Kirby Puckett had a smoother transition from the minors to the majors when he debuted as a 24-year-old and went 4-for-5 at the plate against the Angels in Anaheim. Puckett, drafted out of college, hit .296 for his rookie 1984 season. Through his first eight games, Puckett hit .432 (16-for-37) with six runs scored and hit leadoff in each contest.
Still, it’s important to remember that Buxton, who has hit ninth every game he has been up, won’t turn 22 until Dec. 18. One positive for him is that he has had a tough time getting adjusted to nearly every level he has played at throughout the Twins organization, but has quickly learned each league and then dominated.
In his first eight games with the rookie-ball Gulf Coast League Twins in 2012, Buxton went 1-for-27 (.037) before hitting .295 (18-for-61) over his next 19 games and getting promoted to the Appalachian Rookie League with Elizabethton. With Elizabethton, he hit .179 (7-for-39) in his first 11 games, then hit .395 (15-for-38) over the final 10 games of his first pro season.
In 2013, Buxton started at low Class A Cedar Rapids and hit well for two months. He was then promoted to high Class A Fort Myers where he hit .245 over his first 23 games (24-for-98) and then hit .392 (47-for-120) over his final 34 games to end his second season.
In 2014, he started at Fort Myers and hit .143 (5-for-37) in his first 10 games and then hit .279 (24-for-86) over his next 20 games before being injured.
This year, he started at Class AA Chattanooga and hit .190 (11-for-58) through his first 14 games and then hit .313 (56-for-179) before being called up to the Twins.
“It’s not unlike most young players that get up here that they go through a learning and transition, and he’s going through that now,” Ryan said Sunday. “He took a couple decent at-bats yesterday and got on-base, which is encouraging. But also, there’s going to come a time here when he’s going to start learning that we need some offense and we need him to drive the baseball and he’s capable of doing that. So we’ll be patient with young players, like we have been with most of the guys that have ever come up here.”
Trying to stay loose
Buxton said there is no doubt that the transition from the minors to the majors has been somewhat jarring.
“Most definitely, just trying to come up here and relax and grind out some at-bats and help us win any way I can,” he said. “The more pitches I see up here, I’ll be able to hit them. Like I said just keep battling and compete in every at-bat.”
Asked what has been the most difficult part for him so far, Buxton said: “Just inexperience. I have to do a better job at the plate and picking certain counts and stuff like that.”
Does he feel ready to play in the major leagues despite his early struggles at the plate?
“Most definitely, this is a dream that I always wanted to come true and I’ve made it,” Buxton said. “I want to go out and battle and compete every day and give my best.”
He added he has already learned the biggest lesson of hitting in the majors.
“You just can’t let one at-bat dictate the next at-bat,” he said. “You have to focus on the next at-bat, no matter what happened in the last at-bat. That’s what I’ve been doing, and I feel like my at-bats have gotten better and better.”
• Two reasons the Wild might not sign goalie Devan Dubnyk: First, because of his contract demands and second, the team needs to re-sign restricted free agents such as Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula and Christian Folin. Money won’t be a factor in ex-Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly choosing the team he wants to play with, because the top salary he can receive is $875,000 to play in the NHL this year, plus an additional $225,000 over three years. The fact that Reilly’s father owns the Wild makes them a favorite, but he is visiting the Pittsburgh Penguins this week.
• Look for Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski to use Tyus Jones to help recruit Jones’ former Apple Valley High School teammate Gary Trent Jr., and look for Krzyzewski to make the same strong bid he made for Jones. And don’t be surprised if Coach K also goes after Tyus’ brother Trey Jones, who was a teammate of Trent’s with Team USA’s Under-17 squad that won the FIBA America’s tournament in Argentina.
• ESPN NBA draft expert Chad Ford recently released his latest mock draft before Thursday’s event, and he has the Timberwolves taking Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns first overall. Ford has Tyus Jones going No. 18 overall to the Kevin McHale-coached Houston Rockets, though Jones actually hurt his back at a workout for the Rockets and hasn’t had a tryout since. Another Minnesota product, Rashad Vaughn of Cooper High School and UNLV, is slotted to go No. 22 overall to the Chicago Bulls. … Incidentally, ESPN will be in town this week to follow the Wolves’ draft preparation.
• While all of the attention has been on Buxton and Miguel Sano, top prospect Max Kepler is having maybe the best season of any Twins minor leaguer. Kepler is at Class AA Chattanooga and leading the Southern League in hitting at .342. He has three home runs, 17 doubles, eight triples, 11 stolen bases, 27 RBI and 37 runs scored in 53 games this season. Kepler is still just 22 years old and was signed out of Germany in 2009, the same year Sano signed. Over his past 10 games, Kepler has hit .578.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com