Byron Buxton wanted to give up. It was June 2012, shortly after the Twins had made him the second overall pick in the amateur draft, and the start to his professional career had not gone as planned.
The speedy center fielder began his career in the Gulf Coast League 1 for 27 at the plate, and it wore on him. He knew he was better than that.
“I wanted to quit,” he said Monday. “I literally wanted to quit baseball.”
It wasn’t until his first full professional season in 2013 that he said that he really began to figure out who he was and what he could do on a baseball field, showing off his immense potential as he climbed through the Twins’ system.
Buxton’s career has been set back time and time again by injury. But if he could stay healthy and play to his potential, there was a next level for him. He reached it in April and was rewarded on Monday by being voted the American League Player of the Month, an honor only bestowed up 16 former Twins.
In addition to Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, Buxton hit .426 with a .466 on-base percentage and .897 slugging percentage. His 1.363 OPS led qualified major league hitters, as did his batting average and slugging percentage. He finished the month with eight home runs, 14 RBIs, 15 runs scored and three stolen bases.
“Obviously in the past it hasn’t started out the way I wanted it to, and just being able to start out the way I have and being able to stick to what I’m doing and have the confidence and comfortability and keep that going is something to definitely build off on and giving me even more confidence to go out and try to do it again,” Buxton said.
After the best month of his career, Buxton seems to be brimming with confidence. Last week, Buxton turned in a 5 for 5 day, one of eight multi-hit games for him in April.
“It’s all just about, honestly, you’re going up there and being yourself and trusting what you do,” Buxton said. “…Once the game starts, it’s more of a game to me. I put in the work so it’s just time to go play and relax.”
Buxton has spoken this month of being in a good place mentally, owing much of that to his family. Buxton, the father of two young boys, has said his family helps keep everything in perspective. Over the past couple years, he said, he started realizing he needed to be himself, rather than going out there and trying to be something that he wasn’t. The more he treated baseball like a game, the more fun he had.
The more fun he had, well, the better the results were.
“If you’re being yourself on the field, that means you’re playing freely and you’re going out there and being the best version of you,” Buxton said.
The best version of Buxton is not the guy who once went 1 for 27 and thought about quitting. It’s the guy who continuously wows those around him on a nightly basis. It’s the guy who turns routine grounders into singles with his speed and makes difficult plays look easy. It’s the guy whose athleticism lets him do things others simply cannot.
It’s the guy who, when healthy, is one of the best players in the league.
“He’s already a great player, that’s where we’re starting with him, but to watch him do what he’s done, it is hard to believe that anyone can put together a beginning of the year for a full month and play like that. The way he’s been playing, that’s something you might see from a really special player for a few days or a week or 10 days. To do it for the 30 days, to start the year and pick us up in a lot of ways, you do not see it often.”