I made my first trip of the year to Target Field last Friday, and had a fantastic time. It was a beautiful evening and the Twins played a very crisp ballgame, winning 1-0 behind a tremendous start from Kyle Gibson.
Yet, as I looked around the park from my seats down the first base line, I couldn't help but feel a sense of disappointment with the sparsity of the crowd. The announced attendance of 22,794 -- their second-largest since Opening Day -- seemed overstated, with empty seats littering the lower deck.
The Twins moved within a game of .500 that  night, and by the end of the weekend they had a winning record. In the wake of a dreadful start, this team has been playing good ball, positioning itself for relevancy in the AL Central at least early on.
But the fans, mired in apathy following a fourth straight 90-loss season, haven't responded by filling the stadium. Already the Twins have drawn fewer than 20,000 on five occasions; last year that happened once, in September.
Continuing to win games at a solid clip will help bring back some wayward fans, but what this team needs is a spark plug that generates real excitement and gets the entire baseball world buzzing.
They'll have one soon in Byron Buxton. But how soon?
Buxton's allure goes beyond the fact that he's arguably the best prospect in the game. His dynamic skill set will make him appointment viewing, because he's capable of doing amazing things on a regular basis. That's been on display at Class-AA Chattanooga over his past 10 games, during which Buxton has batted .415 with five steals, four triples and two homers -- one of them a walk-off shot on Monday night.
Not only will Buxton's arrival deliver an enormous marketing jolt, it will more importantly provide a huge boost on the field. He offers so many things that the Twins desperately need if they want to hang around as a contender in the AL Central.
Offering elite speed along with the ability to draw walks and get on base, Buxton is a prototypical leadoff hitter. When you look at the production from the top three spots in the Twins' lineup, it is obvious that they could use one of those, as the struggles of Danny Santana and others have lessened the impact of the two spots that follow in the order (often occupied by Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer):
No. 1 Hitter: .261/.289/.383
No. 2 Hitter: .273/.322/.445
No. 3 Hitter: .297/.374/.386
Twins leadoff hitters have produced the lowest OBP of any spot in the lineup save for No. 9.
Capable of running down any fly ball in his zip code and possessing a cannon arm, Buxton profiles as a premium defensive center fielder. The Twins have been trotting out a pseudo-platoon of Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson in center up to this point, leaving much to be desired. Buxton would fill the biggest hole in the lineup while also substantially upgrading a porous outfield defense.
Then there's this: In some capacity, Torii Hunter was supposedly brought on to serve in a mentorship role, but presently there aren't really any young players on the roster for him to help along -- not any that speak much English, anyway. Buxton is seemingly one of the players who stands to benefit most from Hunter's influence, but he can't do so in Chattanooga. With Hunter on a one-year deal, the Twins need to get their star prospect up in the somewhat near future if they want Hunter to be able to aid his transition to the majors.
When you take all these things into account, it's easy to see why the Twins might feel a bit more urgency to bring Buxton along more quickly than they typically would. But of course, all of these factors are superseded by the importance of his development.
They're not going to do anything that may negatively affect his ability to smoothly and successfully make the jump to the majors, nor should they. And despite his recent blazing hot streak, Buxton remains a 21-year-old coming off a lost season, with just 24 games of experience in Double-A.
As badly as they were burned by the Aaron Hicks experience, one could understand the Twins opting for a conservative approach with their most prized asset, waiting until September or maybe even 2016 to consider a promotion regardless of his performance in the minors.
However, I really can't emphasize this enough: Buxton is a different animal. He's a transcendent talent, on another level entirely from prospects such as Hicks or Danny Santana or Kennys Vargas. The Twins won't -- or at least shouldn't -- feel trepidation based on those past examples.
Buxton's prospect caliber matches that of a young Joe Mauer, who was installed as a big-leaguer at age 21 after just 73 games in Double-A and caught on immediately. It matches Mike Trout, who was in the majors for good at age 20. It matches Kris Bryant, who was called up by the Cubs last month after just 181 total games in the minors, and is now excelling in Chi-town.
Clearly, Buxton is not in line for an imminent promotion to the big leagues. He needs to continue working in Chattanooga for the time being, to prove that he's fully back on track and to keep building confidence.
If he does both of those things for a couple of more months, and the All-Star break is approaching, and the Twins still need his services as badly as they do now?
Why not?
For daily updates on Twins' minor league players and teams, go to the Star Tribune minor-league directory. You can find it here.
Once you're done here, head over to Twins Daily, where today you can find:
* Jeremy Nygaard's recap of Tuesday's minor-league action, which incuded a big game from Aaron Hicks in Triple-A.
* Various notes from Brandon Warne, touching on Eddie Rosario's promotion, Buxton's hot streak and more.