MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Byron Buxton hasn’t forgotten his extended, unexpected stay in the minor leagues last summer.
The inconsistent Twins center fielder is eager to show the experience made him stronger. After an offseason in the weight room, one look is about all it takes.
“People tell you to take that frustration as fuel,” Buxton said. “And that’s something I did, as well, to help me do what I want to do.”
Buxton returned to Minnesota for TwinsFest this weekend with 21 pounds of muscle packed onto his lean, athletic frame. He credits that to a perceived slight from the organization, which held him in the minor leagues last season and declined to recall him when rosters expanded in September — a move that will allow Minnesota to delay Buxton’s free agency for a year.
Buxton admitted during a Twin Cities hospital visit in December that the September snub had gotten to him. He’s put the frustration to good use — the discontentment served as his offseason motivation.
“I had a great workout partner back home,” Buxton said. “He pushed me quite well enough to where once I got to a certain point in my offseason workout, last year didn’t faze me.”
Buxton’s big league career has been filled with fits and starts — moments of brilliance in center field undermined by injuries and inconsistency at the plate. Buxton and Minnesota are hoping the premature end to his 2018 can spark a lasting breakthrough for the 2017 Gold Glove winner.
With the extra bulk, Buxton is hoping to stay durable despite his penchant for running into outfield walls while chasing down fly balls. He also spent considerable time in the batting cages.
The Twins are hoping to repair the relationship. The team signed Buxton to a one-year, $1.75 million contract in January to avoid arbitration, and new manager Rocco Baldelli made an offseason visit to Buxton’s home near Atlanta. Baldelli also went to the Dominican Republic to meet with struggling slugger Miguel Sano, an effort to connect with the young franchise cornerstones coming off lousy 2018s.
“I kind of thought of them as guys who would appreciate some personal time and some personal conversations,” Baldelli said. “I really wanted to hear what those guys had to say about things that have gone on in the past, and about what they want to do in the future and what their goals are. I thought that was something that was more appropriately done in person. It couldn’t have gone better from my point of view.”
Buxton appreciated the effort.
“To be able to take the time out of his day to come down there to meet was pretty huge for me,” Buxton said. “That sets the tone off on a good fit. As soon as we left, I was ready to get back with him and get things back going. That’s the type of vibe I got as soon as I left. I’m too far excited to get down to spring training and get things going.”
Buxton is in the same position as last year, slated to open the season as Minnesota’s center fielder. He seemed ready to make the jump after he hit .300 with 11 home runs, 35 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 57 games after the All-Star break in 2017, a run that even led Buxton to receive MVP votes along with his first Gold Glove.
But he hit .195 through his first 11 games last season and dealt with migraines. Later, he sustained a fractured toe while rehabbing in Class A. Never fully recovered, he struggled upon his return to the Twins and went back on the disabled list. He also dealt with an injury to his hand/wrist and then went home instead of Minnesota in September.
Everyone involved hopes for different circumstances this year.
“Whatever’s motivating him to start this season, I hope that quickly transfers to a positive motivation associated with what this team can accomplish, especially if he’s clicking on all cylinders,” Twins general manager Thad Levine said. “He’s had a very positive outlook on this offseason. He’s worked tirelessly both in the cage and in the weight room, so I think he’s going to be ready to unleash fury on the American League this year.”