Thursday, August 20, 2015

5 Musts For Byron Buxton In 2015

August 20, 2015 is a day that will hopefully go down in history for the Minnesota Twins. While baseball's (and the Twins) number on prospect has already debuted at the big league level, it's on this day that Minnesota is hoping he never goes back to the farm. Entering a major league lineup with Miguel Sano for the first time, the Twins have their future franchise cornerstones in place. Although 2015 is just a starting point for Buxton, there's a few things I'd like to see from him over the final month and a half.

In his first stint with the big league club, Buxton slashed just .189/.231/.270 across 11 games before hitting the disabled list with a thumb injury. For a guy that has torn through the minor leagues, the output was less than stellar. Knowing full well that his bat would take some time, the slow start isn't anything to be disappointed with. That said, there's a few other things that should be keyed in on for the 21 year-old.

1. Controlled But Unlimited Effort

Often times in the world of sports (more often football), you'll hear about a player's motor. Byron Buxton has one of the highest running motors in all of baseball. Not only does he absolutely fly, but he's going at 110%, 100% of the time. While that trait is something that the Twins no doubt have to enjoy, it's when it becomes detrimental that there is a problem.

Much like Bryce Harper before him, Buxton needs to play the final month of the season with an understanding of what controlled effort looks like. He has been shelved the past two seasons after colliding with a teammate, and sliding on a steal. He has routinely smashed into fences, and has obliterated his lanky frame. The punishment he has put on his body has been nothing short of drastic.

Suggesting Buxton play the game of baseball differently is not something that I would be behind. However, Torii Hunter should be in Buxton's ear helping him to feel through how to give the same level of effort, without sacrificing his ability to be on the field for his team. Protecting himself while going into the wall, or getting his hands up when sliding into a bag are minor changes that Buxton can make, while still utilizing his style. In the remainder of the season, Buxton needs to continue to play with the same type of effort, with a bit more regard for his body.

2. Improved Approach At The Plate

For the Twins, Buxton was immediately going to be an elite, if not Gold Glove caliber, centerfielder. He is that fast, and that good with his glove. What he wasn't going to do was hit. Despite being a career .301 hitter in the minors, Buxton needed to get a feel for big league pitching. He fell somewhat flat in starting out hitting below the Mendoza Line in his first taste at the MLB level.

For a guy who owns a 245/135 K/BB ratio across 276 minor league games, Buxton's 15/2 K/BB ratio with the Twins wasn't a good start. The best thing that happened to him however was a stint in Triple-A. Now facing pitchers capable of spinning curveballs and other breaking pitches, Buxton was forced to alter his approach, and become a more patient hitter.

In 13 games, he did just that. Striking out 12 times while drawing four walks, Buxton had hits in each of his 13 games for Triple-A Rochester. How owned a .400/.441/.545 slash line, and collected three doubles, a triple, and a home run. It's safe to say that he's headed back to the show with a significant amount of confidence in his corner.

You'd be crazy to think that Buxton is going to bat anywhere near .400 at the major league level, and he may not even reach a .300 mark. What the Twins have to be hoping for though, is that Buxton can hit around .280 the rest of the way, while striking out less, and utilizing his speed to pick up extra base hits.

3. Make The Speed Play

As things stand, the Twins have stolen just 55 bases as a team (in 2013, Buxton stole that many on his own). The club leader is Brian Dozier, with 10 (he's the only Twins player with double digits). Byron Buxton needs to be the catalyst in reversing that poor output.

Buxton is a definite stolen base threat, but swiping bases at the big league level is much more than just speed. With 22 steals to his credit this season, Buxton has plenty of speed on his side. What he needs to accomplish throughout the last month and a half of the season, is to perfect his jump and learn big league pitchers.

Paul Molitor has allowed his Twins team to be more aggressive on the bases this season. For Buxton, he needs to be the leader when it comes to taking the extra base, as well as stealing them. After his recent thumb injury, head first slides shouldn't be avoided, but rather perfected. If Buxton can hone in his jump on pitchers, as well as his sliding ability, he will go into 2016 with another weapon at his disposal.

4. Drop A Bomb

Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are vastly different players. The former has the ability to hit 30 home runs on a season-by-season basis (maybe even 40), while the latter will top out around 20. However, Buxton definitely does have a power stroke involved in his game. If he can launch his first home run at the MLB level in the final month and a half, it takes another pressure off of his plate for the upcoming season.

Really, that's more what Buxton hitting his first big league home run is about. If he can remove the distraction of "firsts" this season, it allows him to go into 2016 focused on a clean slate. First home run, first steal, first triple, etc. are things that Buxton doesn't need to worry about in a season where has is going to be dubbed "the man" in the outfield.

In his best year, Buxton will likely have a chance to hit around 15-20 homers as he adds more muscle to his frame. If he can enjoy some late season milestones for the Twins in 2015, he will set himself up for a 2016 in which he can worry about letting the game come to him.

5. Top The Lineup Often

Byron Buxton has just 11 games with the Twins under his belt, and he spent nine of those contests batting out of the nine hole. The two games in which Buxton led off, he hit .333/.333/.444 for the Twins (small sample size I know). The bigger point though is that a leadoff hitter is exactly what Buxton is.

On the season, Molitor has gone most often with Brian Dozier out of the leadoff spot. More recently, the role was given to Aaron Hicks. Hicks makes sense in that spot without Buxton in the lineup, but Dozier rarely does. Dozier is a home run hitter who is being forced to settle for solo blasts each time he's lined up as the table setter. For Minnesota, especially with Hicks on the shelf, leadoff should be Buxton or bust.

It's probably fair to slowly integrate baseball's top prospect back into the lineup. If Molitor wants to bat him 7th-9th for a game or two, that's fine. However, realtively early on, Buxton needs to assume the leadoff spot for the Twins. It's going to be his role in 2016, and settling into it over the final part of this season will no doubt pay dividends later. Give Buxton 90% of the leadoff at bats the rest of the way; just another way to remove jitters going into the ever-important 2016 season.

Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano in the same big league lineup is going to be a lot of fun. While it may not make much of a difference in 2015, it no doubt signifies the changing of the guard for the Twins, and them paving the way into the future. If Buxton can leverage his 2015 experience into the 2016 season, the entire big leagues should be on notice.

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