Recovered Buxton aims for bounce back, debut with Twins

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The fast track Byron Buxton has been on to the majors with the Minnesota Twins hit a huge speed bump last season.

Three dives in center field for fly balls led to three serious injuries.

Ranked by Baseball America magazine as the top prospect in the game when the year began, Buxton sprained his left wrist in March during spring training. He aggravated the injury in May sliding into a base with Class A Fort Myers after just five games.

Buxton was back in July and promoted in August, but he got hurt again in his first game with Double-A New Britain in a scary collision with a teammate. That was bad enough to knock him unconscious for 10 minutes and send him to the hospital with a concussion.

To top it all off, Buxton broke a finger on his left hand after 13 games in the instructional Arizona Fall League in October. Buxton said Friday at TwinsFest that he was cleared to resume full training about two weeks ago.

”Hopefully I got `em all out last year and don’t have to worry about it,” said Buxton, whose budding career had been otherwise injury-free.

The hands were one frustrating matter, but the hit to the head was the most frightening event in that can’t-make-it-up 2014 season.

”I couldn’t move. I thought I was paralyzed for a little while, but after about three hours I started feeling my body back so that was always good,” Buxton said, with typical understatement.

His goals this year are to join the Twins in the majors, of course, and to stay healthy.

”Come out and have a good spring and hopefully just open some eyes and see where I’m at and see what I need to improve on,” Buxton said.

The Twins, naturally, have the same hopes.

”We’ve got to knock off some of the rust that’s built up on him, because he hasn’t played all that much,” general manager Terry Ryan said. ”I don’t anticipate anything that went on with him last year really affecting him in a negative way. He just didn’t get enough at-bats or enough playing time to say it was a developmental year. We lost basically a year with him, and that’s not what you like.”

Buxton is likely headed for Double-A to start, but Ryan said Friday that seeing both Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano debut this season ”would be a realistic point of view.” Sano, another one of baseball’s best prospects, had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow in March and couldn’t play at all in 2014.

”They’re both very talented, and if they have the type of years that you would hope with their type of skill set, there’s no reason not to say, `Oh, they have a chance this year,”’ Ryan said. ”Yeah, they do.”

The Twins switched Double-A affiliates, leaving the Eastern League for Chattanooga in the Southern League. More hitter-friendly ballparks and more reliable early-season weather ought to help Buxton and Sano start the season more smoothly, assuming that’s where they’re assigned in April.

”Let’s get those hitters in a situation that’s a little more conducive to offense,” Ryan said.

The upside to Buxton’s injury-marred year was the bonus time spent with Sano while they rehabilitated at the team’s minor league facility in Fort Myers, Florida. The two became fast friends, fishing together daily after treatments and workouts. So not only are they driven to make it soon, they want it to happen together.

”That would be awesome. I know during rehab that’s basically all we talked about,” Buxton said. ”We watched a lot of major league games, but it’ll be nothing like playing side by side with him.”

Sano was at TwinsFest, too, one of about 50 players in the organization in attendance at Target Field including the majority of the major league roster.

”My arm feels better than last year,” Sano said, adding: ”There’s nothing wrong right now.”

The same goes for Buxton, and both he and the entire organization are counting on his status staying that way all season.

”You just have to say it’s an aberration,” Ryan said.