Can the Minnesota Twins keep up its new big-bopper image? The team last month led MLB in extra-base hits and tied for most home runs to right field.
Not normally known as a power hitting club, Minnesota’s 50 HRs (previous record: 29 in 1986, 2002) and a .495 slugging percentage (previous record: .467 in 2004) suggest that at its current pace, the club will hit 317 homers (the club record is 225 set in 1963) and break last season’s MLB record of 267 set by the New York Yankees.
Who should get credit for the Twins’ newfound power surge? “The hitters deserve the credit,” Hitting Coach James Rowson told the MSR during the Twins’ recent seven-game home stand.
Outfielder Byron Buxton, for example, hit his first homer of the season, a line drive over the left field fence, in a win over Baltimore April 28. He’s in the top five in baseball in doubles and already has more than tripled his 2018 extra-base hits (four) with 14 in April. But more than anything, the 6’-2” 190-pound centerfielder looks as comfortable as ever at the plate.
“He’s playing loose, and not living and dying on every at-bat,” Alston said of Buxton. “I think when he goes out there and relaxes, gets a good pitch and hits it hard, he [gets] these results whether it’s a single, a double in the gaps or a homer. I think his goal is to be the best person every day and good things will continue to happen for him.”
When asked if his plate approach thus far this season is as comfortable as it looks, Buxton said, “You go up there and get quality at-bats and stay within yourself and don’t try to overdo it. It obviously took me some years to get this type of confidence. This type of confidence is how I am able to play and be myself. The more confidence I have, the better I play.”
During a recent radio interview, Buxton was asked about his clocked speed (30.2 feet per second, second fastest in the majors, and his average 92.7 MPH exit velocity on his batted balls, which ranks second on the Twins). He later told the MSR that no one ever asked him about his quickness before: “It was a first.”
Buxton credits his parents’ influence on him from an early age. “When I was small, that’s something my parents built in me, the work ethic they had. As long as you play hard, everything gets to work out for itself.
“No matter how fast you are or how slow you are, just play hard,” Buxton’s parents advised him. “As long as you play hard, you’ll get to those balls.”
As for continuing its power surge — the team returns home this week and plays Detroit this weekend — “The confidence is there and you can see it,” Buxton stated. “It is going to be there all year,” he predicted.
“It is never too early to get excited about this club and what it is able to do,” Alston said. “I do believe that you are seeing the possibility of driving the ball out of the ballpark, but we also have a cast of real good hitters on this team that can hurt you in multiple ways.
“The key to this team is that there are several ways in which we can power and get on base with our speed.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org