Minnesota Twins: Seriously, Don’t Give Up on Byron Buxton

Jun 2, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (25) hits a RBI sacrifice fly in the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 2, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (25) hits a RBI sacrifice fly in the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton still has a lot of potential, but his struggles at the plate seems like old news.

In a 162-game season, you can’t tell much, if anything, from the first series of the season. Kris Bryant went 0-for-13 with a walk against the St. Louis Cardinals, Miguel Cabrera is 0-for-6 with two walks in his first couple of games, and Robinson Cano went 3-for-16 against the Houston Astros. Players get off to slow starts, and it’s nothing to worry about.

However, the Minnesota Twins‘ 23-year-old outfielder, Byron Buxton, has been in this position before. He entered the season as a career .220/.274/.398 hitter in his first 138 games, despite being considered one of the top two prospects in baseball for three straight seasons.

It’s only been one series, and the Twins are 3-0, but it seems like the beginning of another long, struggling season for Buxton at the plate. In his first 15 plate appearances, Buxton drew one walk but went just 1-for-14, which isn’t what you want from the third batter in your lineup. He also leads the American League with seven strikeouts.

Buxton struggling at the plate might seem like old news at this point, but he has the talent to turn his season around at any moment, including this weekend against the Chicago White Sox. Still, considering the Twins scored 21 runs on 25 hits against the Kansas City Royals, it’s not the best sign that almost everyone except Buxton was hitting.

It doesn’t add confidence when digging deeper into his strikeouts. On average, Buxton faced just 3.9 pitches per strikeout and struck out on three straight pitches four times. Being impatient at the plate has been a problem of his in the past, and not seeing a lot of pitches hasn’t helped him this season, either.

It’s led to Buxton having a -0.2 oWAR and -37 OPS+ to start the season. Players have crazy numbers to start the season because of the small sample size, such as Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto owning a 389 OPS+. That said, the only other player on the Twins with comparable numbers is Joe Mauer, who has -0.1 oWAR and -0 OPS+.

Buxton’s struggles at the plate to start the season wouldn’t be as concerning if he had shown the ability to hit major league pitching in the past. It’s why no one is freaking out about Bryant, Cabrera or Cano. Eventually, they’ll figure it out and get their batting averages back near .300. But for Buxton, there’s little evidence to believe this could just be an early season funk.

The only time he’s shown the ability to hit in the majors was after returning from injury in September last season.

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Buxton finished the season hitting .287/.357/.653 with nine home runs and 22 RBI in 29 games. While even that isn’t a huge sample size, especially when considering he never hit above .215 during the three months he had at least 49 at-bats in 2016, it’s still reason to believe in him.

That, and he’s only 23 years old with great speed and the talent to be one of the best defensive center fielders in the league. No one has ever doubted his speed or defense, which has given him a team-high 0.3 dWAR to start the season. The reason he bats so high in the lineup is to get him on the base paths to potentially steal or have the ability to go from first to third.

It’s always been about whether he can hit major league pitching, and that’s still yet to be seen.

At a certain point, the Buxton love will evaporate. After this frustrating start it has started to again in Minnesota.

For a player who is trying to prove he can hit in the majors, on a team that trusted him to bat third, there couldn’t be a worse start to the season. Striking out on 50 percent of at-bats is simply not good, no matter the sample size.

Next: Jayson Werth's Final Season in Washington

While the season has just begun, Buxton’s struggles at the plate to start 2017 are again something to keep an eye on. It might be too early to panic, but it’s not too early to be worried about what’s potentially to come. He can still become one of the better center fielders in the league, but it comes down to his hitting.