Twins center fielder Buxton in good defensive company
MINNEAPOLIS--Once underway, Byron Buxton can outrun virtually any player in baseball. That first step was something Buxton set out to improve last offseason, and throughout his first full season in the major leagues. "I put a good focus on gettin...
MINNEAPOLIS-Once underway, Byron Buxton can outrun virtually any player in baseball.
That first step was something Buxton set out to improve last offseason, and throughout his first full season in the major leagues.
"I put a good focus on getting a little bit quicker step," the Twins center fielder said. "My first step usually took me a little longer to when I actually got going, so I just worked on that this past offseason to help my acceleration."
Consider that mission accomplished for Buxton, who was named Jim Kaat Award winner this week as the Twins' defensive player of the year in annual Diamond Awards voting by the Twin Cities Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Break down the metrics and you'll find Buxton's first-step quickness near the top of the list for big-league outfielders. Only Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier and Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays might outdo Buxton when it comes to jumps and reads in center field.
"I've watched Pillar and Kiermaier a little bit (on video)," Buxton said of those study sessions with Twins outfield/baserunning coach Butch Davis. "Their first step is quick. I just want to keep getting better and push myself toward that direction."
Buxton provided many memorable defensive highlights in 2016, but the one that most impressed the Statcast computers came on July 30 at Target Field against the Chicago White Sox. Running down a Melky Cabrera gapper to left-center, Buxton reached a maximum speed of 21.7 mph while covering 84.6 feet from start to finish.
Before hurtling headfirst into the bullpen wall, Buxton achieved 97.3 percent route efficiency, according to the official calculations.
"I just try to get every ball I can," he said. "My mentality being a center fielder is you've got to be able to take charge and go out there and get balls. So, I just go after every ball I can get to, and don't think about too much as I'm going, either."
He smiled before adding the kicker.
"That's probably why I run into a lot of walls," he said.
Now more than two years removed from a harrowing outfield collision at Double-A New Britain that sent him to the hospital with a concussion and neck injuries, Buxton narrowly avoided another on the season's final weekend in Chicago. That time it was right fielder Max Kepler who didn't peel off until the last millisecond as both young stars converged at the warning track.
"I was saying, 'I got it, I got it,' but I don't think he heard me at all," said Buxton, who made the catch. "I know when we were running together, as I was looking at the ball, I glanced down at him and he didn't see me."
A collision with left fielder Robbie Grossman in late August in Toronto knocked backup center fielder Danny Santana out for the year with a sprained left shoulder. Buxton was able to make it through the season in one piece.
Buxton, 22, finished the year ranked 10th in defensive Wins Above Replacement among 26 big-league center fielders with at least 600 innings. That placed him just ahead of Joc Pederson, Dexter Fowler, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Trout.
Buxton was 13th in defensive runs saved above average. His total of three left him well behind Kiermaier (25) and Pillar (21), so there's clearly room to grow beyond matching their first-step quickness.
Buxton had just two outfield assists, well behind Twins leader Eddie Rosario with 10, but that was mostly because opponents quickly learned not to test Buxton's high-end arm.
In terms of Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games, Buxton ranked seventh out of 26 regular center fielders, just ahead of Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Boston Red Sox and Leonys Martin of the Seattle Mariners. Pillar and Kiermaier were easily at the top of that measure, as well.
Add in a 29-game September showing that saw Buxton hit nine home runs with a combined on-base/slugging percentage of 1.011 in 113 plate appearances, and there was significant momentum for the much-hyped prospect heading into 2017.
"We don't know who he's going to be yet," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "You can envision a high ceiling because of the power and the speed and all those things. We've had some encouraging signs here lately, I'll say that."