As noted by Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Twins center fielder Byron Buxton assured fans at this weekend’s TwinsFest that the club’s star defender would be back in center field for the 2024 campaign.
Buxton, 30, was limited to DH-only duties during the 2023 campaign as he battled knee issues before ultimately undergoing knee surgery in October. The nagging injury woes, in addition to stopping Buxton from playing defense last year, may have contributed to his diminished results at the plate last season. In 347 trips to the plate, Buxton slashed a modest .207/.294/.438 that was roughly league average by measure of wRC+. That’s a far cry from the .258/.316/.558 slash line he compiled from 2019 to 2022. The offensive potential Buxton showed during that four-year stretch, when combined with his elite defensive abilities and quality baserunning, made the outfielder one of the league’s most valuable players on a rate basis.
Buxton’s potential has been limited, however, by constant struggles with injuries over the years. Across nine seasons as a big leaguer, Buxton has only appeared in 100 games once, during his 140-game 2017 campaign. Since then, he has averaged just 65 games a season while never appearing in more than 92 in a single campaign. Given his long-standing struggles with staying on the field, the club hoped that by making Buxton their full-time DH in 2022 they would be able to keep him on the field more frequently. That, of course, didn’t pan out, and returning their star center fielder to his natural position has long been acknowledged as the ideal scenario for the club in 2024.
Earlier this offseason, reports indicated that Buxton was fully healed from his autumn knee surgery and was expected to return to baseball activities before the end of the 2023 calendar year, with club officials hoping he would be able to return to regular work in center field in 2024. Since then, Helfand notes that Buxton has resumed baseball activities on a daily basis. Evidently, the return to activity has gone well enough to this point that Buxton and the Twins are confident he’ll be able to act as the club’s every day center fielder to open the year. That may help to take pressure off the club’s front office to find a replacement for center fielder Michael A. Taylor, who stepped in as a regular at the position last year while Buxton was unable to take the field. Internal options to back up Buxton in center currently include the likes of Austin Martin, Nick Gordon, and Willi Castro.
As noted by Helfand, Buxton isn’t the only Twins position player recovering well from offseason surgery. Both first baseman Alex Kirilloff and outfielder Jose Miranda under went surgery back in October and have been progressing well in the run-up to Spring Training. Both youngsters indicated that they hope to be ready to go once camp opens next month. Miranda’s big league career kicked off with a bang in 2022 when he impressed with a .268/.325/.426 slash line in 125 games, but his sophomore season didn’t go nearly as well as he was limited to just 40 games in the big leagues by injuries and ineffectiveness. Kirilloff, meanwhile, enjoyed something of a breakout season in 2023 as he slashed a respectable .270/.348/.445 in 88 games while splitting time at first base with Donovan Solano and Joey Gallo.