KANSAS CITY, MO. – Their careers have traveled on separate tracks, in separate leagues, so far. But Billy Hamilton and Byron Buxton are in the same division now, and baseball fans can finally compare two of the sports’ fastest players side-by-side several times this season.
Buxton, though, says he is already very familiar with the new Royals outfielder, having watched plenty of tape of him playing at the same breakneck speed.
“He’s one of the ones I watch to see what he keys off of, what kind of technique he has, his form,” Buxton said before facing a lineup with Hamilton in it for the first time in his career. “He’s a great base-stealer, and he’s somebody I admire.”
Hamilton is fifth among active players in career stolen bases with 277 and has four seasons with more than 50, while Buxton has only 46 in his entire career. But Buxton has been thrown out only five times, and not at all since May 2017, giving him a 90.2 percent success rate. Hamilton has been thrown out 63 times, for a still-respectable 81.5 percent.
“Throughout the offseason, I’d watch tape [of Hamilton], just to see what I could pick up for myself,” Buxton said. “Maybe get me to steal more bases.”
Buxton said he respects — and recognizes — the way Hamilton patrols center field, too.
“He plays aggressive. He’s got great reaction times,” Buxton said. “Pretty much a lot like me — he goes out there, he likes to have fun and go get it. Can’t be afraid of anything.”
MLB’s Statcast measurements last season rated Buxton the game’s fastest player, averaging 30.7 feet per second at top speed. Hamilton, at 28 three years older than Buxton, still averages 30.1 feet per second, making him among the speediest half-dozen or so players.
So who’s faster? Buxton hesitated.
“I’d say myself. But I don’t know,” he said. “The way I went into the offseason, working on my speed training — when I came out this season, I feel good.”
Twins pitchers were on the field at Kauffman Stadium nearly four hours before the game, doing some extra throwing. Some extra-long throwing.
As part of new pitching coach Wes Johnson’s preparation program, Twins pitchers are encouraged to do a long-tossing session once a week. Pitchers pair up and play catch, with one standing on the foul line and the other in straightaway center field, roughly 200 feet away.
“It’s a nice stretch for my arm,” righthander Trevor Hildenberger said. “It gets the blood flowing in there, and it helps me keep good arm speed.”
That’s the goal, Johnson said. There is sound physiological theory behind the practice sessions, but pitchers also report feeling particularly loose after them.
“You want to keep your shoulder capsule tight but loose. I know that sounds contradictory, but that’s one of the things that long toss does,” Johnson said. “You want [the shoulder ligaments] tight in that socket, but you want the joint loose, to move freely.”
And though the throws are more than three times as long as a pitch, it helps on the mound, too, Johnson said. “Some guys say it helps with their command, their feel for the strike zone,” Johnson said. “Your body has to line up just right to get the ball on line, to hit your target.”
• Relievers Matt Magill and Gabriel Moya, each sidelined by shoulder tightness, have begun throwing bullpen sessions in Fort Myers, manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Matty’s a little ahead of Gabby, but both are throwing well,” Baldelli said. “It allows us to start looking at what the next step might be for them.”
• Addison Reed, on the injured list with a sprained left thumb, is also progressing, Baldelli said, but the Twins will use the opportunity to help him recover from more than the thumb injury. “He’s using this to take care of his body and also do all of the things he needs to get ready to get back on the mound,” he said. “We’ll probably have some updates in the next week or two.”