His coaches and teammates have any number of adjectives to describe him and the things he can do on a baseball field. “Dynamic” and “electric” are often popular descriptors when Byron Buxton’s teammates are asked to discuss the center fielder.
A couple of weeks ago, Nelson Cruz used the phrase “game changer.” He also had a prediction, one that, while early in the season, could prove prescient.
“He probably is going to be a future MVP at some point,” Cruz said.
Yes, it’s April. There’s plenty of time left this season, and Buxton must remain healthy.
But through his first 17 games, Buxton is hitting .438 with a .471 on-base percentage and .938 slugging percentage. His OPS is up at 1.408 and his eight home runs were tied for the major league lead — and were leading the American League — as of Wednesday afternoon. He pairs that, of course, with Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield.
Buxton went 5 for 5 with a stolen base, falling a triple shy of the cycle, in the Twins’ 10-2 victory over Cleveland on Wednesday, beginning the day with a leadoff home run.
Batting leadoff for the second time this season, Buxton did everything he could to position the Twins for success. Before the game, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said there was a “good possibility” Buxton could occupy that role against lefties more frequently.
“I think he’s a good option for us. I think that’s always a possibility when we’re sitting down and I’m looking at it and we’re talking about lineups,” Baldelli said. “That’s a thought that’s in my head a lot, so I think we could see Buck certainly doing it. The way he’s swinging the bat, I don’t think there’s any downside to it.”
Baldelli made a switch a day earlier, too, against a righty, moving Buxton to the three-hole in the batting order in between Josh Donaldson and Cruz instead of cleanup behind the two sluggers where his speed on the bases may be limited by those in front of him. Moving him there, Baldelli said, may “open up some space for him out there on the field.”
But truthfully, it doesn’t seem to matter where Baldelli puts Buxton in the batting order. The center fielder has shown this month that he’s going to hit anywhere.
“Whether I’m hitting third, fourth, fifth, first, it doesn’t matter. Your job is the same. We switch it quite a bit,” Buxton said. “It’s just me sticking to my approach and my plan. … It’s just going up and being aggressive.”
And while he does that, everyone around him will just sit back and enjoy the show — and what a show it’s been.
Buxton fell just short of the cycle on Wednesday, a feat he said he didn’t even know he was chasing until a young fan yelled “all you need is a triple” before his last at-bat of the day. In his final two at-bats, he beat out an infield single, his sprint speed reaching 31.6 feet per second — 30.0 is considered elite — and doubled. He finished with a home run, two doubles and two singles.
“We kind of laughed at that … one where he beat out a routine ground ball,” Twins pitcher J.A. Happ said. “Right now, he’s about as dynamic a player as can be: hitting home runs, stealing bases with the speed, and the defense. That was incredible. What was he, 5 for 5 today? He’s been pretty amazing.”
Yes, he has been.
“He’s got to be the most electric baseball player in the league right now. He’s certainly the hottest. I mean, everything is going his way,” catcher Mitch Garver said. “… Everybody that watches him play is pretty amazed that he does some of the things he does. And he does it every day.”