FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After hearing about the potential of center fielder Byron Buxton and right-hander Jose Berrios for years, Twins fans were finally rewarded with breakout seasons by the two emerging young stars in 2017. Now, the duo will be counted on heavily as Minnesota aims to make the
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After hearing about the potential of center fielder Byron Buxton and right-hander Jose Berrios for years, Twins fans were finally rewarded with breakout seasons by the two emerging young stars in 2017. Now, the duo will be counted on heavily as Minnesota aims to make the postseason for the second straight year.
Buxton, 24, is one of the most dynamic players in baseball with his elite speed, and after early career struggles offensively, he had a huge second half that has him primed to put it all together in 2018. And Berrios, 23, shook off a rough rookie year to post a 3.89 ERA in 145 2/3 innings while displaying his plus stuff that should make him a front-line starter for years to come.
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"Last year, Buxton learned to take what the game gives him and finally turned the page and realized he didn't need to get three hits a game or make web gems to live up to being a superstar No. 2 overall pick and all that stuff," Twins second baseman James Dozier said. "And playing Berrios, it looked like he started to own the game instead of just trying to impress people with his stuff."
As Dozier noted, Buxton had to deal with the pressure of being the game's top prospect for multiple years as a Minor Leaguer, which caused him to try to do too much in his first two seasons in the big leagues, hitting a combined .220/.274/.398 in '15 and '16. But Buxton made mechanical adjustments last year, muting his leg kick, and hit .300/.347/.546 with 11 homers, eight doubles and five triples in 57 games in the second half.
"Last year was a big confidence-builder for me," Buxton said. "Coming into spring, I have no pressure. It's allowed me not to think about mechanics or anything like that. I'm allowed to be myself and just go out there and bang, man. That's what's so fun."
Buxton, rated as the game's fastest player by Statcast™, has worked this spring to improve his defense and baserunning, which seems nearly impossible after he swept the postseason awards as the game's top defender and went 29-for-30 in stolen-base attempts, only getting caught once while oversliding the base in Baltimore. But he's worked on getting better jumps and reads, both in the field and on the bases. Buxton would like to reach 50 stolen bases this year and is more comfortable than ever once he reaches first base.
"We always talk about feel," Buxton said. "Time doesn't really matter. I'm comfortable and confident. This dude could be a 1.1 [seconds to home], but with the way I'm feeling right now, it's like a 1.3. And 1.2 feels like 1.5. I'm going to get to second base and that's my mentality right now."
Berrios has similar confidence, which also took time to build after he had an 8.02 ERA in 14 starts as a rookie in 2016. Berrios started attacking hitters more in '17, increasing his strike percentage from 38.3 percent to 44 percent. His pitches are tough to square up, as opposing hitters had an average exit velocity of only 85.2 mph against him, which ranked as the 13th-best mark among starters, per Statcast™.
Berrios, known for posting his offseason workouts in his native Puerto Rico on social media, has set lofty goals for himself this season with the intent of finishing stronger, as he had a 4.24 ERA in the second half.
"The first thing is, I want to help the team make the playoffs again," Berrios said. "For me, I want to win 20 games for the team and make the All-Star Game. If I accomplish those things, I think I can be up for a Cy Young Award."
If Buxton and Berrios both play up to their capabilities, the Twins should be postseason contenders yet again, and getting back to the playoffs remains the ultimate goal for both players, who could factor into the races for the American League Most Valuable Player and AL Cy Young Award.
"We just want to get back to where we were, and I know we have that hunger," Buxton said. "We got a taste last year. The atmosphere in here is that we have a mentality that we're ready to go. I'm just anxious to get the season going because we have a great group here."
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.