Buxton: 'Nothing's holding me back now'

March 17th, 2022

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Manager Rocco Baldelli's early-spring appraisal of Byron Buxton was that the Twins' center fielder "seems very free to just go out there and play."

"Knowing him and watching him, the fact he can just show up to the ballfield and play now, it means everything," Baldelli added Wednesday.

Taking the field on Thursday afternoon for the first time since he signed a contract extension worth seven years and $100 million on Dec. 1, the Twins' star center fielder certainly had a little fun early on during a 14-1 loss to the Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Buxton led off the game by swatting a liner into the left-field corner, then stole second two pitches later.

He's hit leadoff just 36 times and stolen 71 bases in seven seasons in his career, so it begs the question: Could Thursday's approach be written off as a Spring Training quirk, or is it a sign the Twins are shifting from their recent brand of bomba baseball to a more small-ball approach?

Hitting leadoff means next to nothing early on in spring, as starters will typically log two or three at-bats and take the rest of the game off. Front-loading the order ensures those guys will hit early in the games and maximizes the potential number of plate appearances. Still, it was nice to see Buxton open his spring campaign -- and the Twins' -- on a good note.

And while the steal didn't necessarily signify a change, Baldelli said Minnesota plans to focus on fundamentals to become more well-rounded. The power is already there, and adding tools to the box will give the Twins' battle plans some versatility.

"When you have a team full of guys that hit the ball over the fence -- one through nine -- it probably makes sense to rely on that at times, to give yourself the best shot," Baldelli added. "You really don't want to take the bat out of the hands of a guy when there's someone on base and they have a chance to do that.

"But there's a lot of other ways to win ballgames. Truthfully, it's fun to hit homers, but it's also fun to win in different ways, too."

Buxton said he's ready to take advantage of whatever situation presents itself. Does that include maybe adding to his stolen-base total?

"Probably so," he said. "Get my timing back down. [My] legs feel good, hips feel good, I feel good. So nothing's holding me back now. … However it comes, it comes."

A healthy Buxton would be a real treat for all parties involved. He's averaged just 70 games a season in his career due to myriad injuries, and hearing him talk after the third inning of the Grapefruit League opener raised optimism of what could be.

The plan in 2022, according to Buxton, is to hit doubles. Not for the bulked-up stat line, of course, but simply because it's easier for his teammates to drive him in from there. If he's already on second, he doesn't need to steal second. That plays into the Twins' quest to sharpen some small-ball skills, but where does that leave the long ball?

"Homers? Oh, I've got 30 homers [as my goal]," Buxton, who hit a career-high 19 last season, said with a grin. "I know last year was a little taste of that, and I figure myself out a little bit more each and every year, so my experience is getting better, confidence is better, swing feels better.

"So, for me, it's put the ball to the barrel. That's it."

Twins add Godoy to catching corps
Minnesota claimed José Godoy off waivers from the Padres, who had added the 27-year-old catcher to their roster earlier this week. Signed by the Cardinals in 2014 as an undrafted free agent, Godoy appeared in 16 games for the Mariners last season. The left-handed hitter holds a career .276 average across nine Minors seasons.

He'll report to Major League camp, bringing the Twins' 40-man roster to 40.