Buxton is from Baxley, Georgia, a Deep South town, population 4,509. Baxley is bisected by US 341 about 100 miles southwest of Savannah, Georgia. It's 30-minute drive from the middle of nowhere. The nearest major airport is two hours south—in Jacksonville, Florida. The nearest hotel is 15 miles away.
Byron began playing when he was 6 years old and played multiple sports for several years. He gave up basketball as a high school sophomore but continued playing football as a quarterback and wide receiver through his senior season. Still, he always knew his future was in baseball.
“I have a lot more fun in baseball,” Buxton says. “I have a passion for it.”
Appling County's baseball field features an open layout with bleachers, room for fans to set their lawn chairs right up against a stone wall backstop, and an expansive concession area complete with a large grill. It could easily be mistaken for a game at a large suburban high school, but the hospitality and fan atmosphere is that of smaller communities—intimate friendliness among the spectators and a strong passion for their team and players.
Buxton grew up three hours southeast of Atlanta in a house off a dirt road and he remains a country boy. His idea of a well-spent Saturday is cutting grass while listening to country music on his headphones, and he tends to put everything into simple terms.
"Just got to hope for the best and work as hard as you can," Byron says.
- Buxton's father, father, Felton, is a truck driver, and his mother, Carrie, runs her own day care. Felton Jr., Byron’s older brother, is an engineer in the Navy. They have a younger sister, Keva, who was born in 2004.
Byron is quiet and speaks slowly as he chooses his words carefully—almost the opposite of the way he plays. He has a real feel for the game. He has a high-waisted, projectable body with plenty of quick-twitch athleticism.
In 2012, Buxton graduated from Appling County High School in Baxley, Georgia, after hitting .513 with 36 stolen bases. He was also quarterback, cornerback, and punter on the football team. He had a scholarship to play wide receiver at the University of Georgia.
But in June, the Twins chose Byron in the first round. And they signed Buxton, via scout Jack Powell, for a $6 million bonus.
Powell gave him an 80—the highest grade on the 20-80 scale—on every skill except power. He has given only one other player such high marks in his 37 years of evaluating player: Josh Hamilton.
- After the 2012 season, Baseball America rated Buxton as the top prospect in the Gulf Coast League.
- In 2013, Baseball America rated Buxton as the second-best prospect in the Twins organization. They moved him to #1 in the winter before 2014 spring camps opened; and he stayed #1 through the spring of 2016.
It's highly unlikely anyone will hear Buxton, known to all as "Bucks," complain about the work needed to succeed at the highest level. Some of that is because he's a quiet young man. Most of it is because Buxton's role model for work ethic has been his father, a big-rig driver who got up in the middle of the night so he could be done with work in time to take his kids to their after-school activities.
"My dad gets up at 1," Buxton said. "My alarm goes off and I think, 'My dad gets up at 1, so I shouldn't complain.' That keeps me motivated to do better."
- March 27, 2013: Buxton coincidentally made his debut in a Twins uniform in an exhibition game late in Spring Training. It was against the player he's most compared to in Pirates star Andrew McCutchen. Twins general manager Terry Ryan said the two players have a similar skill set and so it made sense for Buxton to see McCutchen play in person.
"One of the things we've talked about with him is that he reminds a lot of us of McCutchen,' Ryan said. "So I thought that was ironic. So he'll get a chance to watch McCutchen. It's not like he can't learn from some of our guys like [Aaron] Hicks, but this is an opportunity for him to get some Major League time and at-bats. There is no downside."
Byron has impressed the Twins with his makeup more than anything—just the way he goes about his business, with his maturity on the field and off the field. He's a man on a mission.
He receives coaching info and applies it quickly. He impresses you with his demeanor as much as with his outstanding tools, all of which rate at least a 60 (power) with the rest being 70 or 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. (2013 thru 2016)
AWARDS IN 2013
In 2013, Buxton was named the MVP and Prospect of the Year by the Midwest League.
In 2013, Byron was named the Sherry Robertson Award winner as the Twins Minor League Player of the Year.
In 2013, he was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year.
In 2013, Buxton won the 54th annual J.G. Taylor Spinks Award as Topps/Minor League Player of the Year.
Buxton, age 19 at the time, joined Mike Trout (2010), Delmon Young (2005) and Andruw Jones (1996) as the only teenagers who have won the award.
Quiet and still somewhat shy, Buxton is unfailingly polite and has a deep-seated work ethic that is second to none. Byron shows initiative and works hard to improve his overall game.
December 6, 2013: Brix Scott Buxton was born to Lindsey Tillery, Byron's girlfriend of 18 months. Lindsey, a former softball star at Appling County High School, was three years ahead of Buxton at the same school.
"She was pretty popular," he recalled.
The two didn't begin dating until some mutual friends stopped by Buxton's home and made the introduction. A nursing student at Valdosta State University, Lindsey is the one who keeps Buxton focused.
As a grade schooler, Buxton would rise early and light out on the trails surrounding his family’s small house in tiny Graham, Georgia, imitating another country runner—Forrest Gump, the namesake of his favorite movie.
"He’s the best athlete I ever coached,” said Appling County High athletic director and football coach J.T. Pollock. “He made one all-state team as a receiver, made another as a defensive back, and punted for us. There wasn’t anything on the field he couldn’t do. In baseball, I once saw him score from second on a sacrifice fly.
"His junior year, he was playing quarterback for us and we walked out on the field for practice. He was standing on the goal line and somebody said, ‘Hey, Bux, see how far you can throw it.’ He said, ‘OK,’ took a step and cut loose. It went 82 yards. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it myself.
“Just one day, I want to wake up and be Byron Buxton. I’d hit a baseball 450 feet, throw a fastball 97 miles per hour, go to the gym and dunk any way I wanted to dunk, then go over to the football field and make some great catches, punt the ball 50 or 60 yards, throw it 80 yards, and just see how all of that felt.”
When Buxton is on the field, he's the most dynamic player in the Minor Leagues, the top prospect in all of baseball in 2014. He proved that in 2013, surpassing even the highest expectations placed upon the second overall pick in the 2012 draft.
But 2014 brought a new set of challenges for Buxton. He has been injured, re-injured, and set back for four months. Buxton felt lost at the plate, a symptom of the rust he'd accumulated on the disabled list.
"He's the most level-headed kid I've ever been around, and he's the most talented person I've ever been around. He's handling it as good as he possibly can," Fort Myers Miracle manager Doug Mientkiewicz said. "We do everything we can to make him feel as protected as we can, but at the same time, when you're the No. 1 prospect in baseball, there's only so much you can do to keep him away from everything."
Mientkiewicz is mindful of making sure Buxton feels like one of the guys, no easy task given his elite prospect status and the exaggerated media/fan attention that comes with it. (Berry - mlb.com - 7/28/14)
In 2014, Byron spent more time wielding a fishing pole than a baseball bat, when a slew of hard-luck injuries turned into a lost season.
After mornings in rehab at Minnesota's minor league complex in Fort Myers, Florida, he would get into his red pickup, drive a few miles, park along the side of a road, and find a suitable spot next to an irrigation ditch where he'd pursue catfish until the sun set.
Often Buxton's fishing partner was fellow Twins prospect Miguel Sano, a third baseman whose season was cut short with an elbow injury and was also looking for way to while away the hours.
"One day Miguel showed up with four buckets, and I was like, 'What is all that for?" recalled Buxton. "And Miguel went out and caught 35 fish! Man, I'll never forget that day. Of course," Byron added, "we'd have had a lot more fun if we were healthy and at the ballpark.
June 14, 2015: The wait was over. Buxton had his contract purchased by the Twins from Double-A Chattanooga before the game against the Rangers. Buxton, who put on No. 25, said he found out during a team meeting held by Lookouts manager Doug Mientkiewicz.
"Doug brought everybody in the clubhouse and talked to us a little bit and told me I was coming up, and everyone got wild a little bit and excited," Buxton said. "It was an unbelievable moment. It was definitely unexpected. It caught me by surprise and shock. When I heard my name, just a lot of joy and happiness went through me. I'm just blessed to get the opportunity to get called up to The Show."
Buxton said his fiancée, Lindsey, his son, Brix, and his parents will be in attendance at the game at Globe Life Park. Buxton added that he's more excited than anxious to make his Major League debut. (R. Bollinger - MLb.com - June 13, 2015)
Byron didn't even arrive in the Twins' clubhouse until less than four hours before first pitch after his recall from Triple-A Rochester. His car got a flat tire on his way to the airport, and he had to walk three miles to get it serviced.
The Twins are thankful that Buxton got back to Minneapolis in time, because he swatted a three-run homer that capped a five-run rally in the second inning, putting Minnesota ahead for good, as they topped the White Sox, 8-5, at Target Field, finally snapping a season-high 13-game losing streak. (Merkin - MLB.com - 9/2/16)
Despite going on countless trips across the country with his dad growing up, Byron's most memorable drive came when he was barely awake. Buxton, then 7 years old, pleaded with his mother to let him join Felton Buxton one Sunday evening for one of his many trips as a truck driver. The three of them then loaded up the truck and set off for Tennessee from Baxley, Georgia, at 8:00 p.m.
The family returned the following morning after a 12-hour roundabout trip, with his dad driving the whole way and not sleeping for a second. Meanwhile, Buxton slept for approximately eight of those 12 hours.
For Buxton, it exemplified the hard work and determination that is necessary. Especially in a sport like baseball. His dad also taught him to never get too high or low, another key piece of advice in such a fluid game.
"The biggest thing he taught me is staying humble," Buxton said. "I think that allows me to come in here every day, if I had a bad game that allows me to put it behind me and focus on what I have to do to get better that day." Buxton's father has been a big influence on his baseball career, but Buxton says it's the parenting skills he learned that have had an even bigger impact.
Buxton's son Brixton, who is now 3 years old, was born about 18 months after Buxton was selected by the Twins in the 2012 MLB Draft. It practically forced the then-young talented prospect to grow up in a hurry. "It's overwhelming at first," Buxton admitted. "But once you slow down and relax, you realize that you have somebody to take care of. That puts it into perspective, to take things a little more seriously."
The stretches and early work in the batting cages that once seemed monotonous suddenly took precedence. It allowed him to propel through the farm system and finally make a positive impact with the big league club in September 2016. (Jackson - mlb.com - 6/15/17)
Through some of the struggles in 2017, Buxton is consistently one of the first players to participate in early work on the field every day. He has improved his batting average after starting the season with just two hits in his first 29 at-bats.
And even if he does have a bad game from time to time, his harshest critic is also his biggest fan. "If I strike out in a game, when I get home my son, Brixton will say, 'Daddy you struck out today,'" Buxton said. "That allows me to laugh it off. I think that allows me to take pressure off of trying to be somebody that I'm not."
However, when Buxton gets home, his most pressing questions aren't even about his own play. Brixton will often ask how outfielder Max Kepler did on that given day, as the two have grown close during his visits to the clubhouse.
Brixton will make sure to say hello to just about anyone in the clubhouse, even if he doesn't know them. Buxton admitted he sees a lot of himself in his son, but with a more outgoing personality, which is something he stressed to him from day one.
Still, Buxton knows the importance of letting his son be himself, something his father always allowed him to do. He doesn't feel the need to force baseball on him, even though Brixton has already shown the interest. In fact, the two of them will usually go to a local park with a baseball field any time that Buxton is free -- a very familiar scene for Buxton, who made frequent trips with to the local ballpark with his dad growing up.
"Most of the credit would go to him for taking me to the ball field every day to put in the work," Buxton said. "Just the small things that he could have been doing something else, he chose to go with me to the baseball field and help me reach my goal." (Jackson - mlb.com - 6/15/17)
Dec 12, 2018: Byron Buxton was unhappy when the Twins didn't recall him to the Major Leagues following an extended stint in Triple-A to finish a difficult 2018 season -- and he was blunt in expressing those sentiments. "Yes. I ain't sugarcoating nothing," Buxton told the Minneapolis Star Tribune about his displeasure with the decision. "It kind of didn't go over well." The Twins recognized Buxton's need to get those frustrations off his chest in his first public comments regarding the decision, but said that they turned the page on the issue following the season. The organization commended his continued commitment to the Minnesota community after he traveled from his home in Georgia to take part in the Twins' holiday event on Tuesday at the Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare hospital in St. Paul. "I would say, first and foremost, the fact that he's up in Minnesota doing the event that he did -- that he was asked to do and be a part of -- speaks to who he is and what he wants to do moving forward," Twins executive vice president and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said.
Buxton had a hot second half in 2017, hitting .300 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs, and earned the American League's Platinum Glove Award as the league's top defender. But the soon-to-be 25-year-old hit .156/.183/.200 in 28 games in 2018 and was sent on a rehab assignment for a toe injury in late June -- and stayed in Triple-A for the remainder of the season. Because of the center fielder's extended stay in the Minor Leagues, the Twins gained one additional year of team control, pushing Buxton's eligiblity for free agency back until after the 2022 season.
Falvey said that the Twins had exchanged a phone call and text messages with Buxton following the season, and feel "really positive" about the continued development. They've additionally had conversations with Buxton's agents and feel that the conversations are moving in the right direction, as they look ahead to focus on Buxton's continued development and offseason training regimen. The Twins also plan for manager Rocco Baldelli to fly to Georgia to touch base with the center fielder and continue ongoing conversations. "I feel like as soon as Byron gets around his teammates and we get things moving going forward, he's going to be exactly what we expect him to be, and we're going to support him to be the best possible player he can be," Falvey said.
Buxton mentioned to reporters in St. Paul that he expects to have to earn the starting center field job back for the 2019 season, but Twins remain adamant that Buxton's starting role isn't in question. "He's a huge part of our franchise moving forward and I respect the attitude he's taking coming into Spring Training," general manager Thad Levine said. "But in every planning conversation we have, this guy is central to those conversations, and he's featured prominently on this team as the center fielder." (D Park - MLB.com - Dec 12, 2018)
Jan 26, 2019: Target Field's center-field walls might be the worse for wear in 2019, as Byron Buxton showed up for TwinsFest on Friday motivated and focused -- and 21 pounds of muscle heavier. "If I want to play the way that I want to play and run into walls, I've got to have a little bit more cushion," Buxton joked.
Buxton channeled his frustration from a difficult 2018 into a renewed focus during his offseason workouts. Earlier in his career, he didn't emphasize his conditioning to the point he did this offseason, as he figured that his younger body would naturally hold up better on its own. But this offseason, Buxton resolved to put on more weight and fill out his tall frame.
"People tell you to take that frustration as fuel, and that's something that I did, as well, to help me do what I want to do," Buxton said.
The 25-year-old was listed at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds last season, when he struggled with migraines, a lingering left big toe injury and a left wrist issue that limited him to 28 games in the Major Leagues that saw him hit .156/.183/.200. He was expecting to get the call back to the Majors following his recovery, but that call never came, and his free agency was pushed back by a year as a result. In December, he bluntly aired his frustration to local media. But at a certain point during his offseason program, that frustration started to melt away as the progress set in. In fact, Buxton knows he'll lose around 7-10 pounds of his new bulk during Spring Training to hit his playing weight.
"Putting that past me, and once I got that past me, it was more of I could start my excitement, start seeing my happiness, start seeing my progress in what I was doing," he said.
The Twins know that unlocking Buxton and Miguel Sano -- both physically and mentally -- will be the key to any success they have in 2019. The club has closely overseen Sano's intense offseason conditioning to develop the 25-year-old third baseman's body, and Buxton has shown tangible physical results from his focused work. New Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli took a day trip down to Georgia to see Buxton earlier this offseason, where they got a chance to meet and discuss goals for 2019. That also energized the center fielder.
"He didn't have to do that, so just to be able to take the time out of his day to come down there to meet was pretty huge for me," Buxton said. "That sets the tone off on a good foot. As soon as we left, I was ready to get back with him and get things back going. That's the type of vibe I got as soon as he left."
Four years into his Major League career, Buxton has only played in one full season. He's now got new bulk, a new focus on conditioning and largely new coaching and training leadership to guide him. He's excited to see where that leads him on the field. "On a level of 1-10, I'm a 10," he said. "I'm beyond excited to get things back going and see where we are."
"We've always known he could grow and get stronger and become more physical," Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. "He's got such a great frame to build on. I'm excited to see what it brings collectively for him. I think for him the key is, and he knows this, it's about consistency with his swing. It's about things that he needs to do consistently in the box." (DH Park - MLB.com - Jan 26, 2019)
When asked about his wife, Lindsey, and his son, Brixton, Byron said, "That’s my backbone. I know they are my biggest supporters. They have my back no matter what. Just them by my side through the tough times is what really matters. The good times are when we all make those good memories. In the offseason, I get to see them every day. I saw my little boy every day, just seeing him smile is all that matters to me." (Ladson - mlb.com - 4/12/19)
April 12, 2019: Buxton is off to a good start and could be a candidate for the AL Comeback Player of the Year. In a recent sit-down, Buxton talks with MLB.com.
MLB.com: How comfortable are you this season and why?
Buxton: I’m very comfortable. I had a good offseason. I found myself, got back to being myself. That’s the biggest key. You must have the confidence. You have to feel you are able to be yourself. Me being able to be myself, that takes a lot thinking and pressure off me.
MLB.com: How much did your wife and son—I know he is a baby—help you find yourself?
Buxton: Oh, a lot. That’s my backbone. I know they are my biggest supporters. They have my back no matter what. Just them by my side through the tough times is what really matters. The good times are when we all make those good memories. That was huge, especially me going into the offseason. I get to see them every day. I saw my little boy every day, just seeing him smile is all that matters to me.
MLB.com: What did your wife say to you that made you say, “Hey, this year is going to be different?"
Buxton: Be you. That’s all everybody else was telling me. I tried to do something I can’t. I took a step back and just told myself to relax. Why put pressure on yourself and everybody else has to do the same thing … control what I can control. That’s me going out there, play great defense, have great at-bats and trying to help the Twins win.
MLB.com: How much did Torii Hunter help you this offseason? I know he is a mentor to a lot of players on the Twins.
Buxton: Big. No matter time of the night or day, I can call him and talk about anything, whether it’s baseball, family stuff, it doesn’t really matter. That’s a big mentor I look up to. No matter what, he has my back.
MLB.com: What’s the biggest thing he said to you?
Buxton: Be you. That’s what everybody told me. Obviously, if everybody is telling me, “Be you.” Then I’m obviously not being myself.
MLB.com: You were one of the best prospects a few years back. Did you put a lot of pressure on yourself because of all that publicity?
Buxton: I did. When I first got up here, I don’t think I understood as much as I do now. I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders, and I was worrying about way too much rather than coming out here and playing baseball. Like I said, I took the offseason and threw everything out and turned the page.
MLB.com: I read the story where Rocco Baldelli went to Georgia to see you. How much of a difference did that make to you?
Buxton: It was huge. The new manager is getting off on the foot like that, him taking the time to come all the way to Georgia just to meet me. It’s something I can’t put into words. After he left, it was one of the things where I couldn’t wait to get to Spring Training. I couldn’t wait to get the boys back together and get out and do what we are doing.
MLB.com: How much credit do you give Baldelli to your nice start? You are doing well.
Buxton: He helped me do well. He just told me to come out and be yourself, play aggressively and have fun. He preaches to have fun a lot. That’s one thing I got away from a little bit . . . having fun with the game. I also put a little more pressure on me to come out here and say, “I have to do this, I have to do that,” rather than come out here and have quality at-bats. I try to do just one little thing a day, whether it’s a stolen base, run, keeping the runner off second. The little things are what counts.
MLB.com: That seems to be the theme. Be yourself. As one of the top draft picks, did you feel you had to hit a lot of home runs to drive in a lot of runs?
Buxton: I really wasn’t a home run guy. That was one of the biggest things. When I got to pro ball, Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Paul Molitor tried to tell me what not to do. I tried to elevate the ball to try to hit it out. They would ask, “Why are you different?” I’m trying to hit it out. I didn’t understand. Try to hit it through the wall. You hit it through the wall and stay through the zone longer. Those little things right there.
MLB.com: It seems like the Twins are having fun. The Twins are not going away. What do you think?
Buxton: We are having a lot of fun. This is our squad. This is it. We have a lot of fun in the clubhouse. We have a lot of fun on the field. We play hard, play aggressive. That’s how we come up with our DNA.
MLB.com: Last year wasn’t pleasant. How disappointed were you that you didn’t get back to the big leagues? I know you had your share of injuries.
Buxton: It is what it is. I turned the page. Just glad to be up [in the big leagues]. I’m glad to be helping the team win. I’m glad to be up here being myself. Just being up here, being in this clubhouse, being out here and being able to put on a big league uniform, that’s the biggest thing to me. That’s something you can’t take for granted. I come out here each and every day, and I thank the Lord that I’m able and blessed enough to come out here and play this game each and every day. I’m lucky.
MLB.com: How did you get to be the Gold Glove-caliber player that you became?
Buxton: My dad. He was more of that go-getter type of guy. Once I’m out there, I make my mind up that I’m going to catch this ball. I’m going to go get it no matter what it takes. My dad is the same way. I tried to tell him to sit back, relax. He said, “I’m not doing that.” That’s where I get it from.
You hear it all the time: Lay off the wall. In reality, it’s just instincts. That’s built into me from my dad.
MLB.com: Speaking of laying off the wall: I’ve seen you get hurt because you hit the wall so many times. Have you thought about laying off the wall?
Buxton: There is no point in it. If you are going to come out here and you want to win, you do what you have to do to help your team win. You have but one life. I’m going to make the most of it while I can.
MLB.com: I remember in the Wild Card Game against the Yankees in 2017, you were hurt because you ran into the wall. I said, "Man, he should take it easy." But you are not going to take easy, are you?
Buxton: No, I’m not. I’m going to play my way. That’s me going out there playing reckless. I like playing aggressive. I like challenging people. Defense is a big part of me. My dad told me that defense wins championships. So I take a lot of pride in it.
MLB.com: What about going for more home runs?
Buxton: Just make solid contact. The ball will do what it does once it hits contact.
MLB.com: I’ve watched the Twins the last two weeks and I’m saying, "Man, they have pitching, and the offense is coming around, especially the way the team handled Jacob deGrom." Is this team good enough to win the Central Division?
Buxton: Yeah, we are good enough. That’s the whole point of it. Me, personally, I’m glad people don’t think we are what we are. It makes more people mad. That’s how we like it. (B Ladson - MLB.com - April 12, 2019)
July 16, 2019: Buxton received the MLB Players Alumni Association "Heart and Hustle" award for the Twins. This esteemed award honors active players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and traditions of the game.
Byron's left arm was immobilized in a large black cast, but that did little to dampen the jokes, quips or smiles coming from the center fielder as he enjoyed being in the home clubhouse at Target Field before a late 2019 season game against the Royals.
The plan was always for Buxton to return to be with the team following season-ending surgery to repair the labrum in his left shoulder on Sept. 10. The Twins are confident that his energy and swagger in the clubhouse will prove beneficial to his teammates as they push toward an AL Central title in the final games of the regular season.
"Buck's place in this clubhouse is lofty," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He's extremely well respected, and I think guys were waiting for him to get back here. We talk about the energy that he brings. He brings it whether he’s playing or not. He lights up the room, and I'm glad he's able to be back here with us this quickly and spend some time with the group."
Buxton's left arm was to be kept immobile for six weeks, and depending on his progress with physical therapy, he could begin working out soon after. Buxton is resolved to keep perspective and be a buoyant teammate who can still contribute to the pennant race—just off the field.
"Don't change. Be me," Buxton said. "Smile every day and just take it how it is. I can't change the situation, so just keep everybody in the game. Like [Baldelli] said, I like to bring a lot of energy and keep people smiling, and keep people feeling good. That's what I'm going to try to do. I keep everybody up."
"The toughest thing was me accepting that I had to have surgery," Buxton said. "It was one of those situations where I wanted to do anything I could. I couldn't swing the bat, so I wanted to do anything I could to give us some help."
He still can. He understands that now. Most importantly, he's still having fun being around his team and watching the club push towards the 2019 postseason.
"It's more of a blessing that they still want me around in the clubhouse, even in this situation," Buxton said. "I'm just glad I can still be in here even though I can't go out there and compete. Just to be around these guys, it means a lot." (Park - mlb.com - 9/20/19)
Oct 10, 2019: Byron Buxton was determined to make this year different.
Fueled by the frustration of an underwhelming, injury-plagued 2018 campaign and the sting of being left in Triple-A during September callup season that year, Buxton went home to Georgia during the offseason and worked by himself to bulk up, simplify his swing, clear his head and renew his focus for the future. He arrived at Spring Training up 21 pounds and without a leg kick in his swing—the fruits of his offseason labor.
Two steps forward, one step back.
The 2019 season offered Buxton a clean slate to erase the struggles of '18 and prove, once again, that he can be a foundational piece of this franchise's contending future. He did that. When healthy, Buxton built on the promise of his successful 2017 campaign and was one of the most productive and valuable players in baseball, combining line-drive ability and speed on the basepaths with his transformative defense in center field. He was among MLB's leaders in doubles and WAR when he was in the lineup.
But once again, he couldn't stay healthy—and much of it was out of his control. First, he missed time with a bruised right wrist after he was hit by a pitch. Next, it was concussion-like symptoms after his head slammed into the ground on a diving catch. And finally, his season ended after he sustained a torn labrum on a collision with an outfield wall.
And therein lies the dichotomy of Buxton's career on full display once more: tantalizing, game-changing talent, coupled with an unfortunate injury history that forces the Twins to examine how they can keep their center fielder in the lineup. But there's a difference at the end of 2019: He is less of a question mark, having shown that his outstanding 2017 isn't an outlier.
What went right in 2019?
When Buxton was on the field, not much didn't go right. He posted career-bests across the board with a .262/.314/.513 line and he demolished his career-high in doubles, with 30 two-baggers in only 87 games. His strikeout rate was lower than it had ever been, while his hard-hit rate and average exit velocity soared. His line-drive rate, barrel rate and whiff rate were all career-bests. That is to say: All of his peripherals showed the makings of a young hitter taking a noticeable step forward.
All the while, he played his trademark game-changing defense in center field. Even while active for only half the season, Buxton's 12 outs above average, as measured by Statcast, were fifth-best in baseball, and he caught the highest percentage of balls in the field considered five-star difficulty (36.4 percent) among all qualified outfielders.
It's no surprise, then, that Buxton still finished tied for seventh place on the Twins with 2.7 WAR, according to FanGraphs, despite missing nearly half of the season.
"[Buxton] was, for the early part of the year, close to halfway through the year, he was one of the best players in baseball," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said in September. "I mean, you can spin it any way you want and look at the numbers any way you want. There were very few players in baseball who were more valuable than him to that point. And obviously, then, we got to the point where we were dealing with some of the injuries."
What went wrong in 2019?
The exact moment it all went wrong was with one out in the bottom of the second inning of the Twins' series finale against the Marlins on Aug. 1. Miami outfielder Harold Ramirez drilled a fly ball into the right-center field gap, and Buxton couldn't snare the ball as he sprinted and leapt on the warning track. His cap flew off as his left shoulder hit the outfield wall at Marlins Park.
The initial diagnosis was a left shoulder subluxation (partial dislocation), but Buxton first hit a setback while swinging on a rehab assignment with Class A Cedar Rapids and then attempted a comeback as a defensive replacement and baserunner in September. He then saw a specialist and ultimately opted to undergo season-ending surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder. His comeback bid incomplete, Buxton was forced to watch the Twins' appearance in the ALDS from the bench.
"I wanted to try to do everything I could to rehab and get back," Buxton said following his surgery. "Cedar Rapids was kind of the insurance of me knowing what I needed to do next. The toughest thing was me accepting that I had to have surgery. Being a kid, you always hear, 'You don't ever want nobody to cut on,' and things like that. It was one of those situations where I wanted to do anything I could."
Best moment in 2019
On May 18, Buxton stepped to the plate with one out against the Mariners following a Max Kepler double and a pair of walks to Sanó and Jason Castro in the top of the second inning. He worked the count to 2-0, got a belt-high cutter from Wade LeBlanc, and unloaded for his fourth homer of the season and second career grand slam.
With that said, no article about Buxton is complete without showcasing his defense. Everyone associates Buxton with his range in center field and his penchant for leaping grabs at the outfield wall, but it's easy to forget that Buxton, a former high school pitcher, also has a cannon of a right arm. He showed that off in the eighth inning of a May 14 contest against the Angels, when he fielded a Brian Goodwin single on one hop and fired a 98.6 mph strike to home plate to nail Shohei Ohtani and preserve a one-run lead.
2020 Season: Buxton saw limited play in the abbreviated season. An ankle injury and shoulder inflammation meant he played in only 39 of the 60 games.
2021 Season: This season was another long episode of “imagine if this guy was healthy for a full year” for Byron Buxton. Over 61 games, Buxton posted career best numbers in 2021, slashing .306/.358/.647 and 19 home runs. That’s truly incredible. If Buxton had played at the same pace, this is what his stat line would have looked like: .306/.358/.647, 52 HR, 87 RBI, and 24 SB. Wow. (Otto Johnson - Oct. 13, 2021)
June 2012: The Twins chose Byron in the first round (#2 overall), out of Appling County High School in Baxley, Georgia. He signed, via scout Jack Powell, for $6 million.
Jan 11, 2019: Buxton and the Twins avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year deal for $1.7 million.
January 10, 2020: Buxton and the Twins avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year deal for $3 million.
Dec 3, 2020: Buxton and the Twins avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year deal for $5 million for the 2021 season.
Nov. 28, 2021: The Twins signed Buxton to a seven-year, $100 million extension. The deal features a heavily incentive-laden structure and full no-trade clause. The incentive structure supplements the relatively low annual guarantee of $9 million in 2022 and $15 million from 2023-2028. It has big bonuses for Top 10 finishes in AL MVP voting. Also, Buxton will earn an additional $500,000 each in incentives for reaching 502, 533, 567, 600 and 625 plate appearances.