Twins fly-catcher Byron Buxton is still just 25 years of age, but for as long as he’s been a part of the baseball consciousness it feels like he should be older.
Buxton was second overall pick of the draft back in 2012, and he spent four years as a top-10 overall prospect. Even though he exhausted his rookie status back in 2016, he still hasn’t established himself in the bigs. That’s certainly not because of his elite defense in center, which he reminded us of on Sunday against the Tigers:
No, not a perfectly perfect route, but on a windy April day in Target Field that’s to be expected. What’s not expected is for a batted ball that’s a hit more than 90 percent of the time to be turned into an out. But that’s what Buxton does.
What he doesn’t do, or least hasn’t done yet, is produce at the plate with any consistency. Buxton’s always had the bat speed and the power upside, but putting it all together on an extended basis has proved elusive. He’s going to continue providing big value in the field and on the bases for years to come, but what if Buxton hits?
On that front, here’s a good sign:
Indeed, Buxton is hitting the ball hard in 2019. Coming into Sunday’s action, Buxton had an average exit velocity of 92.1 mph versus a career mark of 85.3 and an MLB average of 87.4. He also had an impressive hard-hit percentage of 50.1 compared to a career mark of 30.8 MLB average of 34.1. On top of all that, Buxton’s launch angle has jumped significantly, and at 22.2 degrees it’s in that optimal range for doing damage. Speaking of which, he’s also shown a huge leap in fly-ball rate. Buxton’s always going to have some swing-and-miss in his game, but this year he’s struck out in 24.2 percent of his plate appearances versus a career K% of 31.4. Yes, it’s early, but those are all indicators that become meaningful even across small samples.
In matters related, Buxton right now is batting .333/.389/.576 with six doubles and a triple. No, he’s probably not going to keep that up, but he’s legitimately looking like a hitter who’s focused on hitting the ball in the air and developed the ability to identify which pitches he can drive. That kind of development in tandem with Buxton’s high floor as a guy who saves lots of runs with his glove means he could be in the early stages of realizing his immense potential. It’s too early to say that’s happening, but Buxton has earned your attention the rest of the way.