It’s an often touched on topic — Byron Buxton’s injuries.
It is necessary to bring up again because late Monday during a inter-squad scrimmage, Buxton went down with a foot injury and had to be helped to a cart to get him off the field.
The Minnesota Twins, as of Monday night and early Tuesday morning said that they were “cautiously optimistic,” as Rocco Baldelli said, according to the story filed to the Twins’ website Monday evening. The team also said that while the initial thoughts were that the injury isn’t significant, Buxton underwent more tests to fully ascertain his status.
Early Tuesday afternoon, Twins Manager Rocco Baldelli went on MLB Network Radio and said that there “was no structural damage or injury they could find.” Overall, while Buxton looked uncomfortable with what happened on the field, the preliminary test results look promising for the Twins. The final result was a day-to-day injury that was deemed a left mid-foot sprain, according to the Twins’ website.
If the injury had been more significant, Buxton’s viability as the team’s long-term center fielder would be called into question.
It’s true that Buxton’s otherworldly speed and athletic ability helped him become one of the best fielding center fielders in all of baseball recently. According to FanGraphs, Buxton was the second-best center fielder in MLB in 2019. Excluding 2018 thanks to a long-term injury that limited Buxton to 28 games, his 2017 season was the best by any center fielder in all of baseball defensively.
Offensively, he has steadily progressed to becoming a better hitter to complement his exceptional fielding ability. He improved on his .237 career batting average to .262 in 2019 and was on pace for more runs and total bases while eclipsing his highs in both doubles and runs batted in.
Additionally, his speed translated well to base running and stolen bases. Projecting his 2017 totals for an 140-game season, he likely would have finished in the top 20 for stolen bases if his 2019 had continued beyond 87 games.
There’s no doubting his progression at the plate and his dominant fielding ability. At what point, though, do the Twins stay dedicated to Buxton remaining the primary starting center fielder, if he sustains another serious injury?
Not counting his injury from Monday evening, Buxton has been put on the injured list at the major league level six times. He has played in more than 100 games just once in his last four seasons. That could be cause for concern for the team’s management, which is in win-now mode and is looking to stay that way beyond 2020.
A concern of theirs has to be the feasibility of Buxton as the team’s long-term center fielder. It’s tough to rely on the most important outfielder for defensive success and have him miss more than half of the team’s games in the past two seasons, with one as a serious contender for the postseason.
If Buxton has further injuries that take him out for a significant period of time, the Twins roster is inherently worse. As the outfield shifts, and each position becomes less reliable than it was at the outset of the season. While it looks like the Buxton and the Twins got lucky with this chance, if he is legitimately injured again, Minnesota could have a lot more to think about in center.