Monday, March 16, 2015

Radical Idea: Start Buxton in Center

New Twins manager Paul Molitor had some strong words in relation to a mental mistake committed by Aaron Hicks, the Twins player who made the last two Opening Day starts in center field. This came on the heels of two base running mistakes earlier in the week.

Hicks isn't doing himself any favors as he tries to win back his starting job. The biggest problem might be that the Twins don't have a lot of other options for this important defensive position. Jordan Schafer can adequately fill-in but he isn't a long-term solution. Danny Santana got most of his playing time in center a year ago but the team is committed to him at shortstop.

This led to an idea that might seem to be a little radical... The Twins should start Byron Buxton in center field on Opening Day.

There are a multitude of reasons why this shouldn't happen. Buxton has only played one game at the Double-A level and he ended the game being carted off the field. Last season was basically a lost year for baseball's top prospect as he weathered through a storm of injuries. The Twins also have to keep in mind his arbitration clock because the less service time he accumulates, the cheaper his salary will stay.

Buxton was among the first group of players cut from big league camp over the weekend. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said, "He needs to go down and get some playing time. I think everybody's aware, he got some time here but we need to get him going. He'll need regular playing time, four at-bats a day, center field everyday." In eight Grapefruit League at-bats, Buxton managed just one hit with two walks and three strikeouts.

All that being said, there would be plenty of excitement surrounding Buxton making his debut. Minnesota's season ticket numbers have dropped in recent years as the luster of Target Field has started to wear off. Nothing can bring people back to the field faster than the opportunity to see a potential budding superstar.

However, it's not all about selling tickets. The AL Central is wide open this season and many are predicting that the Twins will finish in last place again. Minnesota could get some surprise performances from the starting staff and continue to pump out last year's offensive numbers and find themselves in the race. If Buxton were able to debut early in the year, he could make some adjustments early in the year and be a threat in the season's second half.

Most performance estimates like Steamer/ZiPs have Buxton hitting between .240-.250 while getting on base around 30% of the time. His speed and power potential are also high so he's projected to be a threat in multiple ways. Hicks is a career .201/.293/.313 hitter while Schafer a little better by hitting .229/.311/.310. Buxton is projected to be better than both of these marks and that's not counting his defense.

Hicks was lauded for his defense and athleticism in the minor leagues. His performance has been up and down at the major league level. Buxton's defense has also been highly rated. His speed helps him to track down balls in center and he has a strong arm from spending some time as a pitcher during high school. Buxton's all out approach to defense caused some injuries last season but with more maturity he'll continue to adjust to baseball's highest level.

One of the main reasons Torii Hunter was brought in was to provide mentor-ship to some of the younger players on the roster. Now that Buxton has been sent to the minor league side of camp, he won't be able to work with Hunter as frequently. Leaving him in the majors would give him the opportunity to play along side Hunter to start his career.

Fans are going to be clamoring to see him at some point in 2015 and Hicks and Schafer don't instill a sense of confidence. Recent top prospects like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper made their debuts while still in their teens and there were some initial growing pains. Buxton could be baseball's next great star so let him work on his game at the big league level.


tt said...

This would be the kind of move that has made the Twins losers. Players don't develop by being thrown into the major leagues before they have developed their skills and are ready to play at the major league level. Instead they often hit a stone wall trying to have the immediate success demanded of major league players. Buxton has five tools, but they aren't going to develop if he is focusing on laying down bunts and using his speed to get on base. Hopefully we won't see any of these young guys until at least September.

NoDak Twins Fan said...

The Twins don't traditionally do this. That's why I said it was a radical idea.

Very good players have shown the ability to be successful at the big league level at a very early age.

It's not going to happen because that's not how baseball works. It was more of a talking point.