MLB.com Columnist

Joe Posnanski

Buxton living up to vast potential

Twins' center fielder adds bat to speed, defense during hot streak

Buxton living up to vast potential

Byron Buxton is 23 years old. Your reaction to this little fact is likely to determine just how you feel about the Twins outfielder's "Here I am" explosion since Independence Day.

In those 33 games, Buxton has hit .356/.391/.653 with nine homers, 10 stolen bases (without getting caught), 28 runs and 23 RBIs. It's hard not to prorate those counting numbers over a whole season just to see what it would look like, even though it's a silly exercise. *

* It would look like this: 44 homers, 49 stolen bases, 137 runs, 113 RBIs.

You can add to this that Buxton is Willie Mays as a defensive center fielder in part because he is one of the fastest players in baseball history, and his arm, well, he was once a pitcher whose fastball touched 99 mph.

And Buxtonis just 23 years old.

But back to that reaction: What is your initial feeling about Buxton being 23?

If it is: "Yeah, that figures, here's a young guy, breaking through, I would have guessed he was about 23," well, that's perfectly sensible.

But if your thought was like mine -- "What? I cannot even believe that he's still just 23 years old" -- that means that you have been following Buxton's career for a while now, you are aware that we have been waiting for what seems like a very long time for this to be happening.

Must C: Buxton's athletic catch

Buxton was the second pick in the 2012 Draft, and almost immediately, the countdown clock to Cooperstown began. Players like him just don't come along. You don't get players that big (6-foot-2), that fast (lightning), with that kind of arm. Buxton is one of the fastest players ever scouted. And he was a natural baseball player; he was not an athlete who needed to learn the game. As a 19-year-old, in Class A ball, Buxton hit .334, slugged .520, walked a bunch and stole 55 bases, and he was everyone's top prospect.

And that's how Buxton stayed for the next couple of years: As everyone's top prospect.

Something always went wrong for the guy. Buxton hurt his wrist, then hurt his wrist again. He had a concussion and dealt with those effects for a while. Buxton went to the Arizona Fall League as a 20-year-old and couldn't hit the ball out of the infield. Still, his overwhelming talent shone through. Buxton was so dynamic in the Minors that he made it to the big leagues in June 2015. He was 21.

And Buxton was entirely overmatched.

Well, that happens, even to great ones. They get rushed to the big leagues too soon. Mays himself managed just one hit in his first 26 big league plate appearances. Mickey Mantle famously considered giving up the game after a long slump (until his father drove to Kansas City and threatened to bring him back to work in the mines).

Buxton was too gifted, too good; he just needed some experience and seasoning. His stardom was certain. He began the 2016 season as the Twins' center fielder.

And … Buxton was overmatched again. He started off so poorly -- .156 average in his first 17 games and he struck out in more than half his at-bats -- that the Twins sent him to the Minors to get back his confidence. Buxton returned in May, and he was better -- he hit 10 homers and slugged .455 the rest of the way -- but he still seemed in a bit over his head.

Maybe the trouble is that we have grown used to phenoms coming to the big leagues and dominating right away. Mike Trout was the game's best player at 20. Bryce Harper was pretty darned good at 19. Corey Seager finished third in the National League MVP Award voting his rookie year, and this year two rookies -- Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger -- are MVP Award candidates. Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa came up the same year and were immediately game-changers. Kris Bryant, right from the start, helped turn around the one team in baseball that seemed impossible to turn around. And so on.

All of this makes waiting seem outdated, old-fashioned. Hey, why isn't Buxton dominating the game already? Is he overhyped? Is he a bust? What is it?

Buxton steals second

Then this year began, new hope again, and Buxton at the plate was … lousy. What can you say? He was from the start an extraordinary outfielder, maybe the best defender in baseball. Buxton stole some bases. But as July 4 began, he was hitting .195, slugging .280, he had all of 11 extra-base hits, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was a ghastly 82-24.

And at this juncture it just seemed like: You know what? Buxton is never going to quite figure out the hitting thing. This was his third run through, and pitchers were still overwhelming him, and it seemed time to reconsider exactly what Buxton can become. He's so good on defense and such a threat on the bases that he is still valuable in his own way, but this idea of him becoming a once-in-a-generation kind of player, well …

Then, you remember: Buxton is just 23 years old.

And since Independence Day, Buxton has fulfilled every hope and crazy expectation ever placed on him. That speed is mind-boggling; Statcast™ Sprint Speed shows he and Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton are the two fastest players in the game. The power is coming; Buxton hit three home runs in a game on Monday. Everything is happening.

Yes, it's true, this great run is just 33 games, and that's not much. But so many of us have been waiting for this. The age of Byron Buxton is upon us. Miracles await.

Joe Posnanski is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, an Emmy Award-winning writer and has been awarded National Sportswriter of the Year. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.