FORT MYERS, FLA. – Byron Buxton was enjoying what felt like a breakthrough season last year, racking up 44 extra-base hits in just 87 games, raising his batting average to a career-high .262, and playing his usual stellar defense. So the Twins should be encouraged by his declaration Saturday, as he measured his progress just two days before training camp workouts begin: “I know this year is going to be a better year.”
There is no guarantee that he will start it on time, but the Twins remain hopeful. Buxton underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in September, an injury he suffered when running into the outfield wall at Miami, and only got clearance to swing a bat again three weeks ago. He has progressed to hitting off a tee, and this week began swinging at soft-toss pitches, the latest step in his take-it-slow approach.
“There’s no rush in this process,” he said.
His manager is naturally optimistic about getting a healthy Buxton back in center field. But he too is willing to wait. Buxton will be limited to baserunning and defensive drills early in camp, Rocco Baldelli said, in hopes that he can play in a game by mid-March.
“Everyone is very pleased” about his progress, Baldelli said. “He’s reached a lot of thresholds … but that last step of facing changes of speeds and things like that, facing live pitching, is a pretty big jump for anyone dealing with this sort of injury. But we’re getting close.”
Buxton agreed. “I’m feeling good. Obviously, not being able to swing since September, just being able to hit a moving object [coming] toward you, that’s always the fun part of the rehab process,” the 26-year-old outfielder said. “It kind of relieves you a little bit mentally, allows you to know that things are going forward. You haven’t taken a step back.”
• Randy Dobnak will start the first spring game next Friday night against the Gophers, Baldelli said. “It will be my first D-I game,” joked Dobnak, a proud alum of Division II Alderson Broaddus.
• Devin Smeltzer will start the Grapefruit League opener vs. the Pirates on Saturday in Bradenton, and Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda will make their spring debuts the following two days at Hammond Stadium, against the Blue Jays and Red Sox, respectively.
• Sergio Romo did not take part in Saturday’s workouts because of “the most minor of minor shoulder strains” in his left (non-throwing) shoulder, according to Baldelli, but the veteran reliever won’t be sidelined more than a day or two.
• New third baseman Josh Donaldson reported to camp Saturday and immediately began offering advice and instruction to a group of prospects in the batting cages.
Ryan Jeffers, C
2019 stats: Batted .264 with 16 doubles and 14 home runs at Class A Fort Myers and AA Pensacola. Also threw out 22 of 85 base-stealers, a 26% rate.
Acquired: Selected in the second round, 59th overall, in the 2018 draft, and signed for an $800,000 bonus.
Role: As the top-rated catcher in the Twins’ system, he will likely start at Pensacola, but should play for AAA Rochester before the season ends.
Did you know? Jeffers is trying to become the 11th North Carolina-Wilmington player to reach the majors, and join Carl Willis as the only one to play for the Twins. If he makes it, he will probably achieve another distinction: None of the previous 10 UNCW Seahawks ever homered.