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Setbacks challenging, but Buxton persevering

MLB, Twins top prospect 'basically starting over' following multiple injuries

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Setbacks challenging, but Buxton persevering play video for Setbacks challenging, but Buxton persevering

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Byron Buxton is on the field, he's the most dynamic player in the Minor Leagues, the top prospect in all of baseball. He proved that a year ago, surpassing even the highest expectations placed upon the second overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.

But this year has brought a new set of challenges for Buxton. He has been injured, re-injured and set back for four months. Buxton has felt lost at the plate, a symptom of the rust he's accumulated on the disabled list. He has played in fewer than 20 games this season, and it's nearly August.

"That's probably the hardest, because I haven't been hurt, really, since I've been playing baseball," Buxton said Saturday. "Coming off a year like last year, then coming in this year and missing almost all the season, it's kind of tough. It's frustrating, but you've just got to deal with it."

Buxton, only 20 years old, said that before striking out three times for Class A Advanced Fort Myers against the Tampa Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. But he also drove in three runs and scorched two doubles, one that bounced over the fence in left-center field.

At this point, if Buxton remains healthy, it's just a matter of time until the game's top prospect catches fire again and continues his ascent toward the Majors.

Buxton hit .334/.424/.520 with 55 stolen bases last season and came into Spring Training this year with a chance to fly through the Twins' system. Then the speedy center fielder sprained the pisotriquetral joint in his left wrist while diving for a fly ball on March 16.

Buxton made his season debut on May 4, only to reaggravate the injury while sliding in his fifth game. He didn't play again for nearly two months.

When Buxton returned three weeks ago, he hit .500 with two homers and a triple over a five-game stretch to earn Florida State League Player of the Week honors. On July 18, he was hit in his right wrist -- not the one that's given him trouble all year -- and forced to sit out another five days.

As good as he was starting to feel then, Buxton said, he's "basically starting over" now.

"He was getting pretty close to where he was last season," agreed Brad Steil, the Twins' director of Minor League operations. "It's too bad he had to miss this last week here, but I don't think it'll take him too long to get back there again."

It's been challenging to shake off the rust, but the time off the field was even harder for Buxton. Being on the disabled list can be a grind, often a boring one. He bought a PlayStation 4 and two games -- "MLB 14: The Show" and "FIFA 14" -- but that only held his attention for a half-hour or so at a time.

Steil called it "normal frustration," but Buxton had never dealt with an injury for this long in his baseball life.

"Just kept telling myself to stay positive," Buxton said. "And when I do get back out there, just give it the best that I can for the rest of the season, because I know there's not much time left."

Buxton followed the rehab process, and the Twins organization and his coaches kept a close eye on his swing when he returned. They wanted to make sure he wasn't trying too hard to play through the pain to the point where it affected his mechanics.

Fort Myers Miracle manager Doug Mientkiewicz is mindful of making sure Buxton feels like one of the guys, no easy task given his elite prospect status and the exaggerated media/fan attention that comes with it.

"He's the most level-headed kid I've ever been around, and he's the most talented person I've ever been around. He's handling it as good as he possibly can," Mientkiewicz said. "We do everything we can to make him feel as protected as we can, but at the same time, when you're the No. 1 prospect in baseball, there's only so much you can do to keep him away from everything."

The Twins will send Buxton to Double-A New Britain as soon as he gets back up to speed, but they don't want to rush him through this.

"The first step is just to get him back to where he was last year -- his timing and just his level of play," Steil said. "I think at this point, it's just trying to maximize the number of at-bats we can get him before we head into the offseason."

To that end, the Twins plan to send Buxton to the instructional league after the Minor League season ends. Over the next few weeks, they'll discuss whether Buxton should head back to the Arizona Fall League for more at-bats or pack it in until Spring Training.

Buxton said he doesn't want to worry about promotions. He's narrowed his focus to contributing whatever he can to his team, improving personally and getting back to the form that allowed him to take the baseball world by storm last year.

"I'm just going with the flow," Buxton said, smiling. "Haven't really set many goals. Wherever I'm at, just try to help us win. That's basically the biggest goal I have, just go out there and give it all I've got, play my game."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"event":["prospect" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }
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