Twins Should Keep Byron Buxton at DH as Long as Possible

Photo: Anthony Souffle - Star Tribune

The Minnesota Twins are 17-13 and in 1st place in the American League Central by 3 games, entering Wednesday. Designated hitter, Byron Buxton, is a big reason for that.

He’s been written into the starting lineup for 26 of the first 30 games and he’s been a huge contributor in the middle of the order, batting .257 with a .872 OPS. His 7 home runs are tied with Joey Gallo for most on the team, and his 17 RBI are good for 2nd, behind Trevor Larnach’s 19.

Calls for Byron Buxton to play center field

But for many fans and some media members, Buxton’s early-season contributions at the plate are not satisfactory enough. LaVelle E. Neal of the Star Tribune, for example, wrote a column in Wednesday’s paper that called for the Twins to put Buxton back in center field.

LaVelle’s reasoning is two-fold. (1) Half of what Buxton offers to a roster comes from his gold glove caliber defense and (2) Alex Kirilloff is healthy and the Twins are a better team with Buck in the outfield and Kirilloff in the lineup.

[More success from Kirilloff in AAA] would also signal that it’s time for Buxton to return to the outfield to open the DH spot for Kirilloff or Trevor Larnach. Or to give a break to someone else from playing in the field.

Buxton is using just three of his five tools — hit, hit for power and run. The other two are throwing and fielding. When Buxton has all five of his tools working, he’s a problem for opponents. He’s making spectacular catches in the outfield. He’s throwing runners out — or keeping them from even thinking about advancing a base.

The injury risk certainly increases once he takes the field. But the reward is that the Twins are an even better team. This is about putting the best version of the Twins on the field, and that version is possible with Buxton in center field and Kirilloff in the lineup somewhere. Kirilloff can hit. He can help a Twins offense that can use any bat it can get. This is what the Twins should be working toward.

LaVelle E. Neal – Star Tribune
LaVelle is right… but wrong.

There’s no arguing that the Twins are a better team with a healthy Byron Buxton playing center field and a healthy Alex Kirilloff somewhere in the lineup. Ideally, both of them would be in the middle of one of the most dangerous offensive lineups in baseball. Not to mention, how good it would be on defense.

But the well-known former Twins beat writer is getting way too far ahead of himself. Yes, Buxton is feeling better than he has through 30 regular season games than just about any point in his career. But, as Byron admitted in a recent interview with The Athletic’s Dan Hayes, his good health so far can be mostly attributed to his role as an everyday designated hitter.

“I was able to play the whole month and not worry about getting hurt or not worry about not being able to play the next day or not worried about how this is going to feel and that is going to feel. Every day I wake up, I know I’m playing. Every day I wake up, I know I’m DHing. … My worry is me being healthy, (DH) separates me from having to worry about being healthy.”

Byron Buxton (via The Athletic)
Twins should keep Buxton at DH as long as possible

Look, the Twins are playing in one of the worst divisions in baseball. They are probably one 8-game winning streak away from running away with the AL Central crown and never looking back. The White Sox, Royals and Tigers may already be giving up on their seasons and the Guardians are struggling to stay afloat.

The dumbest thing this organization could do, this summer, is rush Byron Buxton out to center field, just for him to get hurt before before fall rolls through.

If Buck remains healthy, and the Twins are playing in meaningful games come September — or even better, they can wait until the postseason begins because they are a cinch playoff team by that point — then Rocco Baldelli & Co can move Buxton back into the outfield, where he can help take your team on a deep playoff run on both sides of the ball.

Until then, as long as he and Correa remain in the middle of the batting order for the next few months, there’s absolutely no reason why the Twins shouldn’t find themselves atop the AL Central, when the leaves start to turn… which is all Buxton cares about after helplessly watching his team fall out of playoff contention late last season.

Buxton reflected a lot over the winter about how the 2022 season played out. He was a first-time All-Star and blasted a career-high 28 home runs. The 92 games he appeared in were the most Buxton played since 2017.

But what Buxton remembers is how he was one of the players sidelined as the Twins collapsed over the final month, when they went from tied for first place on Labor Day to finishing 14 games off the pace. Buxton injured his knee in Boston in mid-April and wasn’t healthy for the rest of the season.

Dan Hayes – The Athletic
Don’t sprint at the beginning of a marathon

Look, we all want to see Byron Buxton back in center field taking hits away from opposing offenses. But what’s most important to this team’s regular season success is that he is in the batting lineup on an almost-daily basis.

As we all know, the Major League Baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. And as of May 3, the Minnesota Twins are leading the race. There’s absolutely no reason to try and charge out to a lead, by riding your oft-injured sprinter, when more than 80% of the marathon has yet to be run.

Keep Byron Buxton at designated hitter for as long as the season allows. Worry about moving him back to the outfield only when it becomes absolutely necessary. Hopefully, that’s the first game of a playoff series.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan