Six weeks after he ran into a wall in Miami, the Twins finally have a target date for Byron Buxton’s return: February 17.
That’s the day of the Twins’ first full-squad workout in Fort Myers, and — they hope — the next time they will see their young center fielder on a baseball diamond.
In a conclusion that somehow was both abrupt and inevitable, Buxton’s 2019 season ended on an operating table in Los Angeles on Tuesday. A tear in Buxton’s labrum was sewed up to stabilize his left shoulder, and he is expected to make a full recovery — in five to six months.
“It’s disappointing, obviously, to lose Buck, the player and the guy, for the rest of the year. But we’re going to do whatever we can to support him,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, by now well-practiced in extending best wishes to his hobbled players. “We need to make sure that he gets right physically.”
Understandable since Buxton at his best appears to be one of the most dynamic talents in the game. Trouble is, five years into his major league career, the Twins remain stuck in the what-if phase of development, still waiting for Buxton to burst into the superstardom that’s been projected for him since he was drafted in 2012.
The Twins have played 731 regular-season games since Buxton made his big-league debut in 2015, and Buxton has started fewer than half of them, only 358. Migraines, concussions, groin strains, a fractured toe, a bruised wrist — all have kept the team’s best fielder off the field and its fastest runner out of the lineup.
“Buck was, for the early part of the year, one of the best players in baseball,” Baldelli said of the former Platinum Glove winner, whose final numbers for 2019 in 87 appearances are a .262 average, with 30 doubles, four triples, 10 homers, 46 RBI and 14 stolen bases. “There were very few players in baseball that were more valuable than him at that point. Obviously, then, we got the point where we were dealing with injuries.”
He was hit on the right wrist by a Brad Keller pitch June 14 and missed 13 games. He dived to make a catch in Cleveland on July 15, suffered a concussion and missed 10 more. And on Aug. 1, he collided with the center field wall at Miami Stadium while trying to catch a Harold Ramirez triple. The impact seemed unremarkable, considering his habit of running into walls, and Buxton remained in the game. But the damage was severe: His left shoulder joint was knocked out of place, tearing his labrum.
“He was rehabbing very hard and spent a ton of time and effort with our guys in the training room. He was feeling better,” Baldelli said, and Buxton even returned to play defense and pinch run five times in September. But he couldn’t swing the bat without discomfort.
“This was not an injury that was going to heal all the way,” Baldelli said. “For him to get all the way back and be swinging the bat like good Major League Baseball players needs to, he was going to have to have surgery.”
Dr. Neal ElAttrache, whose star-filled client list includes Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant, did the procedure Tuesday afternoon, stitching up the labrum in order to hold the shoulder joint in place. Buxton will remain in California for a few days, then rejoin the Twins for the stretch run — and to begin preparing for 2020.
“It just felt like it really wasn’t healing. We didn’t want him to be out there masking his pain,” Baldelli said. “To be completely fair to him, we have to give him the opportunity to get right.”