Twins' Buxton working hard in first spring camp
Talented outfield prospect making strong impression with solid work ethic
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The alarm goes off at 6 a.m., not a time most 19-year-olds are eager to start their day. But there are worse ways, Byron Buxton knows, to make a living.
"This is the best way, right here," Buxton said.
Right here is his first Spring Training with the Minnesota Twins. The No. 2 overall pick in last year's First-Year Player Draft and the Twins' No. 2 prospect, Buxton has brought all five of his tools to his first camp as he gets set for his first full season.
"So far, it's been really good," said Buxton, ranked No. 19 on MLB.com's overall Top 100. "I'm just trying to adapt, getting to meet everybody, getting to know my way around and figuring things out."
So much of that is about the routine and the preparations needed to play every day at the professional level. It's tripped up more than one young prospect, regardless of pure talent, but there's reason to feel confident it won't be an obstacle for the Georgia high school product.
It's highly unlikely anyone will hear Buxton, known to all as "Buck," complain about the work needed to succeed at the highest level. Some of that is because he's a quiet young man. Most of it is because Buxton's role model for work ethic has been his father, a big-rig driver who got up in the middle of the night so he could be done with work in time to take his kids to their after-school activities.
"My dad gets up at 1," Buxton said. "My alarm goes off and I think, 'My dad gets up at 1, so I shouldn't complain.' That keeps me motivated to do better."
This isn't talk from some gritty overachiever. Buxton is a grinder hiding in a tooled-up body. He's a premium athlete who can do everything on the baseball field, the type it could be a mistake to put a ceiling on. But as gifted as Buxton is between the lines, it's what's between his ears in terms of humility and work ethic that might stand out even more.
"You don't see his attitude a lot, especially with those higher picks who get so much attention," Twins farm director Brad Steil said. "He is really a humble kid. He's pleasant to be around. [His attitude and athleticism] is a good combination to have. It's probably one of the reasons he went so high."
Buxton comes into camp having picked up 165 professional at-bats, not counting some valuable Appalachian League playoff experience, in 2012. That wasn't just a byproduct of the new Draft rules that mandated draftees to sign by mid-July. It surprised absolutely no one that Buxton signed quickly, on June 13, so he could get a head start on his pro career.
Buxton likely tried to do a little too much at first, getting overly pull conscious at the plate, attempting to prove with each at-bat he was worth all of the fuss and attention. Then he settled in and hit well in Elizabethton. Steil has already seen improvement with Buxton's approach at the plate, something that should bode well as he makes the leap to full-season ball in April.
That's a move Twins fans, as well as the Cedar Rapids Kernels, are excited to see. The Twins just moved their Class A affiliate to the Midwest League town, a spot in Iowa only a few hours from Minneapolis. Buxton will be in an outfield with No. 10 Twins prospect Max Kepler and fellow 2012 draftee Adam Walker. Don't be surprised to see an uptick of traffic flowing south on I-35 as the Twins' faithful travel to check out the future.
"Those guys played together last year in Elizabethton," Steil said. "That will be a good trip for our fans. Just talking to the Cedar Rapids people, they've gotten several phone calls from people in Minnesota looking to buy tickets."
Buxton definitely is a proponent of the "speak softly and carry a big stick" mentality. Fans looking for Torii Hunter-type ebullience in center field will have to look elsewhere. But that doesn't mean he can't lead by example.
"I think that's going to come," Steil said. "You can tell his teammates look up to him because of his ability. He is quiet. But I think as the confidence comes and he becomes more comfortable, the leadership will come along with it. But he's not going to be a rah-rah guy."
In so many ways, Buxton's personality, his humility and his work ethic dovetail perfectly in this organization, one whose farm system is on the rebound after some leaner years compared to the heyday of the organization. There is a set philosophy all Twins are expected to adhere to, one that's guided the franchise for years. It hasn't taken too long for Buxton to buy in.
"You have to play the game the Twins way, respect the game, respect others and play the game right," Buxton said. "I'm just another part of the Twins organization. I'm just trying to stay humble, keeping working hard, have a good work ethic and listen to the coaches."
It doesn't hurt having some special coaches and instructors during Spring Training delivering that message to impressionable young players like Buxton. Being told to be a believer in the "Twins way" is one thing; being told by former Twins greats increases the likelihood of it sinking in.
"Mr. Tom Kelly talked to me, Mr. Paul Molitor talked to me," the ever-polite Buxton said. "That's a Hall of Famer right there, so that's kind of cool."
The comparisons Buxton has already drawn are kind of cool as well. They run the gamut of athletic, toolsy outfield types, from Adam Jones to the Upton brothers. Buxton, while not paying too much attention to that kind of fanfare, likes the Mike Trout comp because the Angels outfielder, as Buxton points out, "can do it all."
"Me, personally, I don't like to do that," Steil said of comparing prospects to established Major League stars. "I don't think it's fair to the kid. I just want him to be Byron. To me, we just want him to go out there and learn and get to the next level."
Once Buxton gets there, then the comps can really begin, but only in reverse. Someday, there will be those being called "the next Byron Buxton."
"Hopefully, in five to 10 years, they'll be saying that," Steil said.