A 21-pound chip on his shoulder? Byron Buxton has checked two of the right boxes

MINNEAPOLIS – Byron Buxton plans on crashing into a few walls in Target Field this summer. And it’s a safe bet given the way he plays all-out in centerfield.

That’s one reason that he said he put in a different offseason plan this winter, and one encouraging morsel for Twins fans desperate for the long-awaited breakout.

“If I want to play the way that I want to play and run into walls, I’ve got to have a little bit more cushion,” Buxton joked.

At least, we think he was joking.

He said he’s added 21 pounds, and unlike past offseasons in which he focused so much on training that blazing speed, it sounds like this winter the former defensive player of the year was more about the bulking up.

“[In the past] I figured, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t have to work out as much because I’m young, my bones have held up.’ I didn’t take it as serious then. So this year it was more of like, ‘All right, you’ve got to put on some weight,’” Buxton said. “So I just kind of put that in the back of my head just to put on some pounds. … I know I’m going to lose about 7-10 when I get to spring [training]. So that [weight gain] will just help me out for the upcoming season.”

Durability has been one of those ever-present questions that has followed Buxton throughout his still-young career. He’s suffered a number of injuries that have robbed him of development time and big league plate appearances. And while many could be considered fluky injuries, it’s fair to say that there’s a pattern of missed time to this point in Buxton’s pro career. Migraines, a foul ball that broke his big toe, a strained wrist, broken and sprained fingers, a concussion – not to mention violent collisions with outfield walls and even a diving crash with a former teammate.

If durability has been a question, perhaps the added mass will help. The other question surrounding Buxton’s game is his bat. His ability to make enough consistent contact was called into question last year – but then again, he hardly got a healthy runway in 2018 before illness and injury took over.

Buxton hit .156/.183/.200 in his disappointing campaign, and was sent home in September in a controversial roster decision from Minnesota’s front office. The centerfielder spoke publicly several months later about how that decision irked him, and he said he’s used it as motivation.

“A good bit of it went into [my offseason plan]. People tell you to take that frustration as fuel,” he said Saturday at TwinsFest. “That’s something I did to help me do what I wanted to do. I had a great workout partner back home … Once I got that past me it was more I could see my excitement, start to see my happiness, start seeing my progress on what I was doing.

“On a level 1-10 I’m a 10! I’m beyond excited to get things back going and see what we are.  … I’m pumped,” he said.

Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey was the one who made the call to keep Buxton away at the end of last season when an expanded roster and a depleted outfield group would have made it easy to bring him back to Minnesota. Still, Falvey and his team view Buxton as a critical component of their near- and longer-term future.

“It was an important winter for [Buxton],” Falvey said during TwinsFest. “He had an up-and-down year last year, dealt with some injuries, dealt with some performance challenges. These guys care [Buxton and Sano]. They care about everyone in this room. They care about the fans. They want to be good on this field. They are critical to our success.

“When you look at those teams that are playing in the playoffs consistently over the last couple of years — I look at Houston, I look at Boston and I look at Cleveland, and the teams that have won the divisions the last few years — that good young core of players that can kind of carry you for two, three, four years. … [Buxton and Sano] are critical; this is an important year for them. An incredibly important year.”

For Buxton’s part, he’s done the work to put himself in a good spot. He commented publicly and then moved past the roster/service time mini-controversy; and then he spent a winter getting stronger. That’s two checks in his favor. Next up we’ll see if it translates to success on the field.

Bonus listening: Derek Wetmore pins Dan Hayes to ask the tough questions. What’s Byron Buxton up to these days? Some early positive signs from new Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. And are you optimistic about the immediate future of the Minnesota Twins?

Have the Twins done enough spending this winter to be competitive in 2019?

All that, plus Jerry Bell and Joe Nathan are headed to the Twins Hall of Fame. Our thanks to Cory Provus and the Twins for providing the press conference from which we pulled these highlights.