In the first season of a seven-year, $100 million contract extension, Twins center fielder Byron Buxton both rewarded the team’s faith in him and gave his critics reason to wonder.
A first-time all-star, Buxton was one of the game’s best players through the All-Star Game, fulfilling for the longest period of his career the promise that made him the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. It wasn’t long after, however, that injuries slowed him down and, ultimately, ended his season early — something that has plagued Buxton since he graduated to the majors in 2015.
“I battled all year,” Buxton said Friday after he and four teammates modeled new Twins uniforms at Mall of America.
Bothered by a knee injury since mid-April, Buxton finally landed on the injured list in late August because of a hip strain and missed the final 42 games of the season. While he was out, the Twins fell from first in the American League Central to 14 games out at season’s end.
“I did what I could to try to get me through the season, and it didn’t work out,” Bixton said. “So, for me it was all about pulling for my teammates. Once it happens, it happens. I can’t control the outcome, so I battle. That’s my policy.”
Don’t expect anything different from Buxton, 28, in 2023.
“I can’t control my injuries,” he said, “but I ain’t gonna change the way I play, either. I’m going to go out there and keep playing hard, and if it’s stuff that I can get through, and we’re in that spot to make it to the playoffs, I’ll fight through it. It just didn’t work out this year, so we’ll try it again.”
Buxton has been rehabbing at his home in Georgia, mostly isolation drills and a little weight lifting, and plans to be ready to play when spring training opens at a date to be determined in February. On Friday, Buxton said, he was cleared to begin running.
“Running’s my favorite thing to do, so for me to get cleared to run, I’m on Cloud 9,” he said. “I’m anxious to get back and see how it feels when I get to running on it; that will tell me how far I need to go and where I’m at.”
Buxton played 92 games, more than he had played since a career-high 140 in 2017. He made his first All-Star game — even lifting the American League to a 3-2 victory with a two-run home run at Dodger Stadium — and hit .224 with 51 RBIs, 61 runs scored and a team-high 28 home runs.
After the All-Star Game, Buxton had his knee injected with plasma rich platelets and was playing regularly before hiring his hip while trying to catch a fading line drive from Texas’ Ezequiel Duran on Aug. 22. Two days later, he was on the injured list.
Buxton and his trainers worked hard to get him back into the lineup, but with the Twins 10 games out of first place, the team announced he would have season-ending knee surgery.
“It’s something for me to build off of,” Buxton said. “Ninety-two games, that’s the most I’ve played in I couldn’t tell you how long. So, little by little, I know I’m going to get there.”
Second baseman Jorge Polanco was another Twins star who ended the season on the injured list, missing the final 38 games of the season because of a nagging knee injury and watching as his team fell out of the AL Central race.
“It’s not a good feeling, you know?” he said Friday.
One of the five Twins players who modeled the Twins’ new uniforms, Polanco said he did not need surgery to his knee and that rehab was going well. He came to Minnesota from his home in the Dominican Republic for Friday’s event.
“I know I couldn’t play at the end, but we cannot be selfish,” he said. “I was hurt. I had trust in my teammates. In the end, we didn’t do it. It is a bad feeling, but I’m doing better. I’m working on it.”