Twins Confident Byron Buxton Can Handle Starter Reps in Center Field; Will Not Seek Backup Plan

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton found himself restricted to DH duties, for much of the 2023 season, due to ongoing knee issues that required yet another cleanup procedure in October. The injuries not only prevented Buxton from playing his usual defensive role, but contributed to his underwhelming performance at the plate too.

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In 347 plate appearances last season, Buxton managed near career lows in most offensive categories, pumping a .207/.294/.438 slashline (.732 OPS), which is league average, when considering his wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus), but not the type of old school baseball metrics that will move the meter for most fans, when you’re paid more than just about everybody else on the roster.

It also represents a notable decline from his .258/.316/.558 slashline (.874 OPS) between 2019 and 2022. Buxton’s impressive offensive performance over those four years, along with his exceptional defensive skills and speedy base running, established him as one of the league’s most exciting players.

Recently, steam has been building that Buck’s knee has been feeling good, following his most recent surgery this offseason. Then, over the weekend, Buxton confirmed at Twinsfest that he’s going to get back out to the outfield in Spring Training, announcing “I’m back” to the crowd of Twins fans gathered at Target Field over the weekend.

Minnesota Twins View Byron Buxton as Everyday Center Fielder

Byron Buxton hugs Carlos Correa: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Recently though, multiple insiders including Jon Morosi (MLB Network) and Bobby Nightengale (Star Tribune), took it a step farther reporting that the Twins are so encouraged about the progress Byron Buxton has made since he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in October, that they’re planning their 2024 outfield around having Buxton as their everyday center fielder.

How encouraged are they? Encouraged enough that their only backup plans are Willi Castro and prospect Austin Martin. Derek Falvey tells Morosi that Buxton is testing out better in his flexibility and strengths tests than he has in years. So… no Michael A. Taylor or any other ‘A’ grade insurance option or 1a/1b rest buddy who can take center field regularly throughout a grueling 162-game season.

As much as the Twins liked what Taylor contributed last year, they view Byron Buxton as their starting center fielder. They’re encouraged by Buxton’s progress since he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in October, and they have Willi Castro and prospect Austin Martin as depth options in center.

Bobby Nightengale – StarTribune

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Last season, the Twins acquired Michael Taylor to fill in for Buxton, and he excelled in that role. Taylor filled in for Buxton throughout the season and is now in a position to turn his performance into a favorable free agent contract. He also hit 21 home runs last season.

Can Byron Buxton Stay Healthy

Really, the key is Byron Buxton’s inability to stay healthy during his nine seasons in the major leagues. Buxton has only managed to play in 100 games in one season, a 140-game campaign in 2017. Since then, he has averaged just 65 games per season, never exceeding 92 total appearances.

Given his struggles with injuries, the team had hoped that assigning Buxton as their full-time DH in 2022 would increase his availability on the field. However, that strategy did not work. We’ll see if going all-in the other way pays off.