Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told reporters, including Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com, that Byron Buxton will work primarily at designated hitter early in the season. According to Baldelli, while Buxton is “doing great” health-wise, the club wants to use him as a DH early in the year in order to hopefully keep him healthy for the full 2023 season. Baldelli did not specify how long that would last beyond noting that the club planned to more slowly build him up to center field work.
This decision is sure to cut into Buxton’s value early in the year, as despite his excellence at the plate (150 wRC+ across the 2021-22 campaigns), a great deal of his value comes from being among the very best defensive center fielders in the sport. That being said, it’s an understandable plan for the Twins to go into the season nonetheless. Buxton has only played 100 games once in his career, in 2017.
He has played just 307 games since then, reaching only 92 contests last year before suffering a right hip strain in August. Buxton also played through right knee issues until that point, eventually electing to shut things down once the Twins were knocked out of playoff contention. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee in September.
The defensive drop-off that comes from using Buxton as a DH might not be as severe as one would expect considering the Twins’ excellent outfield defense. Michael A. Taylor, whom the Twins acquired from the Royals earlier this offseason, has posted +22 Outs Above Average over the past two seasons. With Taylor manning center field while flanked by Joey Gallo and Max Kepler in the outfield corners, the Twins will retain Gold Glove caliber defense across the outfield even while Buxton isn’t playing the field.
The Twins don’t go into 2023 with an established everyday designated hitter. Corner infielders Alex Kirilloff and Jose Miranda can rotate through those spots, while utility infielders Nick Gordon and Donovan Solano could also get reps there. With Jorge Polanco potentially beginning the season on the injured list, the Twins might have to rely on that duo at second base in the early going. Polanco has ramped up slowly this spring after his 2022 campaign was cut short by a left knee issue.