It wasn’t long ago that we were talking about Byron Buxton being the top prospect in Major League Baseball, mainly because of his speed and incredible defensive ability. However, those expectations have simmered due to his numerous injuries. Unfortunately, the word “bust” has even been thrown around. But knowledgeable observers understand that when Buxton is healthy he’s a rare talent.
As a rookie in 2015, Buxton was a slender 175-pound 21-year-old with mesmerizing speed. Unfortunately, his career started with a couple of injury-plagued seasons in which he showed flashes of his superstar abilities. It wasn’t until 2017 that Buxton would put together a near-full season hitting 16 home runs in 140 games. Sixteen home runs don’t indicate a lack of power, by any means, but that means he was hitting one home run every 30 at-bats.
Buxton then followed his first full year with another injury-riddled season leading up to his 2019 campaign. He experienced a breakout that year despite his inability to stay on the field, hitting .262 with 14 stolen bases and ten home runs in 87 games before having his season ended by a combination of concussions and injuries to his shoulder. Even in a shortened 2019 season, he showcased his unique power and speed, with over half of his hits being for extra bases.
However, soon after his season-ending injury, the Minnesota Twins were swept by the New York Yankees in the 2019 American League Division Series, and injury concerns once again jeopardized all of the progress Buxton had made.
Last year Buxton bulked up significantly, and his numbers reflected it in a big way. However, for as good as he was at the plate, it seems as though his power numbers have been overlooked. Perhaps because he is often injured, and there is some truth to that. 2020 was a weird year for everyone, but one thing remained consistent: Buxton got hurt.
But let’s look a little deeper for a minute. Even though Buxton missed time, he had quietly reinvented himself as a power-hitting star. The once-slender Buxton hammered 13 home runs in just 39 games in his shortened 2020 campaign, an insane one home run per every ten at-bats. The only other player that came close to that rate was Yankees slugger Luke Voit. Worth noting: He only had two stolen bases in those same 39 games.
So is Buxton a speed or a power guy? Since 2015, he has ranked in the 99th percentile among all players in sprint speed every year (per Statcast). If you directly compare stolen bases to home runs from between 2015 and 2019, Buxton accumulated 60 stolen bases to just 38 home runs resulting in a 1.57:1 stolen base to home run ratio during that period.
Last year that ratio came all the way down to a rate of 0.15 stolen bases per home run. The combination of that trend and Buxton’s increase in size leads me to believe that his power is a new part of his game that isn’t going away any time soon.
And neither is his speed.
It has to be hard to steal bases when you’re hitting home runs and doubles as often as he did last year, which helps explain the decrease in steals. It’s probably safe to say he’s both a power and a speed guy as he enters his prime at age 27, and that’s more than fine with me.
This year, the now 210 pound Buxton has picked up right where he left off, mashing four home runs in his first seven games. He also has half as many stolen bases as he had last year (1) and looks as good as ever chasing down fly balls in center field.
Buxton is an MVP candidate if he can stay healthy. Hopefully, this is the year that his offensive output becomes even more valuable than his Gold Glove-caliber defense. He’s a sprinting machine. A web gem waiting to happen. And now he’s a serious power threat.
That kind of player doesn’t come around too often.
Buxton is a 5-tool center fielder when he’s on the field and a keystone for a roster with playoff aspirations. It’s time we start appreciating his brilliance now that he’s becoming the player we all thought he could be.