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The Twins finally showed patience with a center fielder, and it is paying off

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Seattle Mariners v. Minnesota Twins Photo by Jordan Johnson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Aaron Hicks was rushed to the majors. He debuted at 23 years old, in 2013, and with only 22 games at triple-A under his belt. The Twins needed to do so, because of the pre-2013 season trades of Ben Revere (for Vance Worley and Trevor May,) and Denard Span (for Alex Meyer.) Neither of those trades exactly worked out well for Minnesota, although May remains an underrated reliever, and one of the better components of recent Twins’ bullpens prior to signing with the Mets as a free agent this winter.

Hicks, meanwhile, would eventually be traded for then-prospect, now-journeyman catcher John Ryan Murphy, who played in exactly 26 games for the Twins.

How Hicks went from well-regarded first rounder to being traded at his lowest value is a story of mismanagement and mishandling by the Twins. Hicks played in 81 games as a rookie in 2013, and hit less than .200, although injuries were a factor. He split 2014 evenly between the majors and minors, participating in games at the double-A and triple-A level. In 2015, he spent more time in the majors than minors, but did spend time at Triple-A. In total, he never played in more than 136 combined games per season (2014) with the Twins organization. Eventually, in 2015, after the season, Hicks was traded to the Yankees, with his time in Minnesota an utter disappointment. At the time, a MLB Trade Rumors report suggested some options to patrol the grass at Target Field going forward.

the Twins organization obviously has plenty of outfield talent coming, including top prospect Byron Buxton and the well-regarded Max Kepler. Eddie Rosario is another option, as are Oswaldo Arcia and Danny Santana, and the club appears increasingly interested in utilizing young slugger Miguel Sano in left.

Some of those options worked out—Eddie Rosario was a serviceable left fielder, and Max Kepler has been signed long-term, while other ideas are laughable—Oswaldo Arcia last played professional baseball in 2017, and do I really need to rehash how that Sano-in-the-outfield experiment worked out?

Meanwhile, Aaron Hicks has gone on to find his groove in New York City (a New York Groove perhaps?) In 2017, he participated in 88 games, hit /266./372/.475, and cemented himself as a long term part of the Yankees outfield plans. He played in 137 games the next season, hit nearly as well, and even garnered a few long-shot votes as MVP. His 2019 was marred by injury, but he played in nearly every Yankees game in 2020. For years, Twins fans have been looking back and accusing the team of giving up on Hicks too soon.

Which brings us back to Byron Buxton. Buxton, in large part due to the Hicks trade, made his debut in 2015, at only 21 years old. He earned his way up though—hitting .305/.367/.500 in 72 combined games at the double-A and triple-A levels. Once promoted to the majors though, he seemed to struggle to adjust, and hit only .209/.250/.326 with only 6 walks compared to 44 strikeouts. The same general story happened in 2016. His defense always played, and he’d hit the cover off the ball in the minors, but struggle at the big league level. We thought, perhaps, that he had turned the corner with the upstart 2017 team. He was generally healthy, participating in 140 games (plus three at triple-A,) and he finally started hitting, .253/.314/.413 to be precise. He still struck out alot (150 times) and walked too few (38 times,) but it was progress. Until the disaster of 2018, the season that cost Paul Molitor his job. Buxton hit .156/.183/.200 with 28 strikeouts and 3 walks in only 26 games in the majors. He would be sent down as far as high-A Fort Meyers that year.

Something must have worked though—in 2019 and 2020 he finally seemed to have become the hitter we were waiting for. He hit .262/.314/.513, struck out only 68 times, walked 19 times, and showed off some doubles power in 2019, but was limited to only 87 games. In 2020 he was limited to 39 games (out of 60,) and showed slightly better OBP and SLG numbers than 2019, in a season where most numbers were down.

Finally, in 2021, Buxton is widely reported to have added about 25 pounds of muscle to his frame over the winter. He’s now in his age-27 season, a point where many guys are making their debut, yet he is an experienced vet. So far he has been on a tear, hitting four home runs, which leads the team, and posting an astronomical .421/.476/1.211 line with five strikeouts and two walks. This sample is small and unsustainable, but its still fantastic to see. While he missed a small bit of time due to an illness, he has participated in six of the team’s seven games so far. The last piece we needed from Buxton was health, and if he has it this season, he may finally be the player the Twins have waited over half a decade to see.

Poll

How many games will Buxton play this season (out of 162)

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Less than 80
    (8 votes)
  • 7%
    80-100
    (34 votes)
  • 33%
    100-120
    (150 votes)
  • 45%
    120-140
    (206 votes)
  • 12%
    more than 140
    (56 votes)
454 votes total Vote Now