One of the most interesting aspects of Twins center fielder Byron Buxton’s career is that he has been prone to extremely slow starts, whether it be in the minors or the majors. This season has been no different. Buxton has gotten off to an abysmal start, leading the league in strikeouts with 23 and hitting just .085 with four hits in 47 at-bats over 14 games.
It’s not the kind of start anyone wanted from Buxton, but it does fit a pattern. And if there are any positives to the pattern, it’s that Buxton has always found his way out of his slumps to produce fantastic numbers.
Going back to 2015, when Buxton started the season in Class AA Chattanooga, he started the year hitting just 13-for-62 (.210 average) in 15 games, striking out 15 times, driving in seven runs and scoring seven times.
Last year Buxton also had an extremely slow start at the major league level, as he hit .156 with 24 strikeouts, two RBI and five runs scored in 15 games for the Twins. That year the Twins made the decision to send their star prospect down to the minors.
In each of those two seasons Buxton was able to build momentum and put up great numbers.
In 2015 with Chattanooga he hit .309 over his next 43 games with four homers, 11 triples, 30 RBI, 37 runs scored, 20 walks and just 36 strikeouts. That led to a promotion to the major league club, where he played just 11 games over more than a month as he got his feet wet in the pros.
He would eventually get sent down to Class AAA Rochester, hit. 400, get called back up to the pros and show flashes of what made him such a great prospect.
But then came that 2016 start, his first year breaking spring training with the pro club. After that bad 15-game start he went to Rochester and again looked like a star. He hit .336 with six homers, 14 RBI, 26 runs scored, two triples and nine doubles in 29 games.
Those numbers were good enough to get him called back up to the bigs, where, again, he struggled for an extended period of time, hitting .204 over 46 games and getting sent back down to Rochester.
But it was his third stretch with the major league club last season that led pundits and fans alike to think that this was finally the year for Buxton to prove himself as a major leaguer.
He hit .287 over 29 games from September to October last season, hitting nine homers with 22 RBI, 24 runs scored, two triples and six doubles. He still had an extremely high strikeout rate, with 38 in 101 at-bats, but he was pounding the ball when he made contact.
Buxton continued to show promise in spring training this season, as he hit .283 with nine doubles, a homer, three RBI and six runs scored in 17 games.
The Twins front office and manager Paul Molitor had to think he had found his stride, and Buxton began the season as the Twins No. 3 hitter, a prime spot for success in the lineup.
So how do they account for his struggles? And how does he find a way out of those struggles now that they’ve shown up again?
Buxton on slow start
Buxton said last week that there have been times this season when his at-bats moved too quickly for him.
“Some of the at-bats speed up on me a little bit and get a little tough for me to slow down,” he said. “I just need to relax and keep the game slow.”
He said one of the biggest things for him in the early stages of the season has been the support of the locker room.
“For the most part my teammates and coaches have been keeping my mind clear and just going out there and having fun and playing the game,” he said. “I haven’t really had too much time to think about the negative side; I stay positive and keep moving.”
Is he feeling too much pressure?
“Not at all. They tell me people start out like this all the time,” Buxton said. “You just have to battle and grind through it.”
And Buxton did say he’s been looking for advice from veterans to get a better understanding of how pitchers are attacking him.
“I’m picking up on certain stuff, talking to Doz [Brian Dozier], talking to [Joe] Mauer, the little things that help give me that edge to know what he could possibly throw me here or what he might actually throw me,” he said.
If you want to look to something positive in Buxton’s game it’s easy to go to his world-class defense, which has only gotten better this season. He was asked how that part of the game comes so easily to him.
“I think my mentality that I don’t want nobody to get a base hit helps me out to be aggressive and go after those balls the way I do,” he said. “My outfielders in Rosie [Eddie Rosario] and Kep [Max Kepler] and Danny [Santana], they’re more aggressive this year, and so I mean we’re just out there having fun and doing what we’re supposed to do.”
Yes while it may be a slow start for Buxton, Twins fans have to imagine that things can only get better from here.
• Former Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks has been having some early success with the Yankees after losing his right field job to Aaron Judge. Hicks has hit three homers while posting a .269 batting average with eight RBI and six runs scored in nine games. Hicks hit just .217 last season with eight home runs in 123 games.
• Jake Guentzel, the former Hill-Murray standout having an amazing playoffs for the Pittsburgh Penguins, had an equally impressive regular season as he finished with 33 points on 16 goals and 17 assists in 40 games as a 22-year-old rookie. Guentzel has five goals and an assist in four playoff games games.
• While it remains unclear where former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will end up next season, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston told ESPN.com that he got a chance to train with Peterson this offseason and was blown away by the 2012 MVP. “Being able to be in the presence of whom many consider to be one of the greatest backs, especially of this generation, my generation — to be able to learn [from] and see his work ethic, to see the way he works, man, you really know why he’s great,” Winston said. ... Meanwhile Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported on Monday that word around the league is that Peterson is willing to play for $5 million less than his $18 million contract if the situation is right.
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