Brinson on Buxton's form: 'It motivates you'

May 5th, 2021

MIAMI -- Marlins outfielder either played with or against Twins outfielder at showcases leading up to the 2012 MLB Draft. Buxton, who is having a breakout campaign in his seventh big league season, paces the American League in home runs and slugging percentage. The former top prospect is finally reaching his star potential. He was the No. 2 overall selection nine years ago, but injuries played a big part in slowing his trajectory.

Brinson, who was the 29th pick by the Rangers in that Draft, struggled in his first two seasons with his hometown Marlins from 2018-19 after being the centerpiece of the Christian Yelich trade. In '20, the right-handed-hitting Brinson started to show progress in a platoon role, slashing .260/.315/.480 with a .795 OPS against lefties.

"It definitely motivates you, knowing that guys like that can dig out of a hole, like anybody else," Brinson said. "Obviously, first couple years weren't the years that I wanted, and my expectations weren't met for myself. And I'm sure he would say the same thing. ... But something clicked for him this season, and he's having a tremendous year so far."

That's not where the common thread ends. Marlins bench coach James Rowson served as the Twins' hitting coach from 2017-19, which meant working with Buxton for three seasons in Minnesota. During that span, Buxton played only 255 games and slashed .245/.300/.423 with a 91 OPS+.

This is how the pair stacks up from a Statcast standpoint in 2021:

• Sprint speed: Brinson (28.8 ft/sec) vs. Buxton (29.7 ft/sec)
• Average exit velocity: Brinson (91.6 mph) vs. Buxton (94.8 mph)
• Maximum exit velocity: Brinson (113.2 mph) vs. Buxton (115.6 mph)

Of note: Brinson has recorded two outfield assists in the past week. His 95.5 mph throw in Milwaukee was the fastest of his career. Buxton, a Gold Glove Award winner in 2017, has a career-high throw velocity of 99.4 mph.

All three metrics are elite in comparison with the rest of the Majors. Of course, Brinson's sample (16 games) is smaller than Buxton's (22 games) entering Wednesday.

"I think with J-Row coming over from the Twins, working with Byron -- similar hitter, similar builds -- he kind of knew," Brinson said. "I think me and him had similar problems, similar issues at the plate, so he kind of saw a little bit of Byron in me coming over here. It was very easy for him to make the transition, so that could be it."

Manager Don Mattingly also believes the arrival of Rowson, who also serves as Miami's offensive coordinator, has played a role in Brinson taking strides. With Starling Marte sidelined, Brinson is starting regularly in his place.

"I felt like he made some adjustments with Lew, and Lew finally kind of got that feel," Mattingly said. "It was the same adjustments that other people were trying to get him to make, but James was able to communicate that in a way that Lew got it, and was able to work on it and start to pick up the game plan. Lew's very good about looking at video, watching what he wants to hit, what this guy can do and what his game plan is when he walks up there."

In Tuesday's 9-3 victory over the D-backs at loanDepot park, Brinson homered and doubled to right-center. All but one of his eight hits this season have gone up the middle or to the opposite field.

Here is a comparison between him and Buxton on that front in 2021:

Pull: Brinson (32.3%) vs. Buxton (39.7%) -- league average is 36.6%
Straight: Brinson (45.2%) vs. Buxton (39.7%) -- league average is 37.9%
Opposite: Brinson (22.6%) vs. Buxton (20.6%) -- league average is 25.5%

"When I'm not chasing hits, that's where the majority of my hits are," Brinson said. "[But] when I am going good, I'm able to drive balls the other away like I did last night. That was my first oppo homer in the big leagues, so I was very proud of myself for that. When I was in the Minors, when I was going good, a lot of my hard hits were up the middle, the other way.

"I will still pull the ball the majority of the time, but to be a complete hitter, you've got to be able to use the whole field. So that's just something I've got to continue to focus on and continue to have success with."