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Twins remain bullish on Buxton, Sano

Youngsters have yet to break out, but team says it's coming soon
@dohyoungpark
March 23, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For years, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sanó have flashed glimpses of their tantalizing potential but have been unable to sustain it on the field. Long considered the core pieces to Minnesota's sustained success, Buxton and Sano took big steps forward in 2017 before taking an equally

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For years, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sanó have flashed glimpses of their tantalizing potential but have been unable to sustain it on the field.

Long considered the core pieces to Minnesota's sustained success, Buxton and Sano took big steps forward in 2017 before taking an equally big step back in '18. At their best, they can anchor a playoff team with their undeniable talent. But that best, once again, eluded the Twins last season, leaving fans wondering what, exactly, the expectations can be for the former top prospects.

The Twins have made no secret of the fact that they're looking for a step forward from the duo.

Last season, Sano found himself in Class A Advanced Fort Myers at one point as he struggled with his weight and conditioning, while Buxton battled with migraines and a fracture in his left big toe and spent most of the season in Triple-A Rochester.

But one year earlier, Buxton hit 16 homers, won the American League Platinum Glove Award and was worth a team-leading 5.1 WAR per Baseball-Reference despite actually being graded by metrics as a below-average hitter. Sano hit 28 homers and made the AL All-Star team yet played in only 114 games. So the ability to translate their talent to the field is absolutely there.

With that in mind, just staying on the field could be half the battle for both Sano and Buxton, and both have worked proactively during the offseason to maximize that potential. The third baseman worked closely with the Twins on a rigorous conditioning regimen to cut down on weight and add flexibility, while the center fielder added 21 pounds in the hopes of becoming more durable.

Buxton said he spent the offseason working alone to tune out the noise and reclaim his swing. His leg kick is gone again -- he said his thought process while hitting was cluttered at times as he worried about when to lower his leg and where it had to land.

Hitting coach James Rowson agreed that the key to the 25-year-old reclaiming his success would be in Buxton simplifying his process, staying reactive, relying on his unique athleticism -- and not focusing on being too perfect all the time.

"It's going to sound crazy, but his key for me is to relax and have fun," Rowson said. "That's a big key for him. Relax and have fun. He's a well above-average athlete. This guy has athleticism like no one in this league has. I think when you add tension into that or those types of things into it, you start to take away from his athleticism."

So far, so good.

Yes, it's only spring, but Buxton's four homers, 14 RBIs, three steals and .455/.486/.909 hitting line all pace the team. And more importantly, Rowson has been very encouraged by both the mechanics of Buxton's simplified swing and by his approach at the plate.

"It wasn't necessarily about the leg kick or not the leg kick -- it was just about him hitting from a stable base, consistently," Rowson said. "This spring, he's done that about as well as I've ever seen him do it, and he's been consistent with it.

"I'm looking at what he looks like and what he's taking every at-bat and how he's making adjustments throughout those at-bats. I love what he's doing this spring, because he's been very consistent this spring at his approach. For that, I'm really excited for it, and I know that's what he's excited for as well."

As for Sano, the Twins were thrilled with the conditioning work he did over the offseason, and even with the slow-healing laceration to his right heel area halting Sano's positive momentum for the time being, chief baseball officer Derek Falvey still believes that the third baseman has put himself in a position to succeed over his abbreviated season.

"He's had some really poor luck recently," Falvey said. "He had a great winter. I know there's a lot of focus on weight numbers and things like that with him -- I can tell you it's improved meaningfully over the course of the winter. He came in a great spot.

"I can understand [frustration with Sano] -- I can understand why people are saying that, given he's dealt with a lot of setbacks here in the last couple of years. Our hope is that this is one where we just get past it and we're looking, from May on, him being what we hoped he would be this year."

With C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Nelson Cruz now in the fold, the Twins' lineup shouldn't have trouble scoring runs. But a healthy, productive Buxton and Sano could be the X-factor.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.