Souhan: Byron Buxton is the most exciting Twin since Kirby Puckett

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Congratulations, Twins fans.

You wanted your team to be more like the Yankees, and now they're identical.

In record, at least.

The Twins and Yankees began Thursday 6-11, tied for worst in the American League. The Twins' bullpen is an untended firepit, the fielders just blew a game in epic fashion, COVID has shredded the roster, they have players quarantining in Anaheim and the staff ace owns a 6.11 ERA.

Whether this is a season-threatening crisis or just a bad week will be determined in the coming months, but if you're looking for hope as the team returns to Minneapolis, let's celebrate that which is worth celebrating.

Byron Buxton is coming back to Target Field as one of baseball's best players. And he just passed a big test.

Early this season, Buxton crushed breaking pitches. On Tuesday, in a doubleheader at Oakland, the A's decided to attack Buxton with high fastballs, and he looked momentarily flummoxed.

Had the American League found an antidote?

On Wednesday afternoon, A's starter Frankie Montas carried the same scouting report to the mound and started Buxton with a 96-mph fastball. Buxton's bat was so quick he pulled that pitch, hard, down the left-field line.

Montas' next pitch was a 97-mph fastball. Buxton lined it, easily, into the rightfield corner for a double.

In the 10th, he smashed a high fastball for a long home run.

In a game of adjustments, Buxton had adjusted in less than 24 hours to an opponent's novel approach. He would finish 3-for-6 with his sixth double and sixth home run of the season. He would make a diving, sliding catch in left-center. He would go first-to-third to create a run. And he would carry himself like the star he has become.

April stats can deceive, but Buxton's stats are indicative of his talent. He is hitting .432 with a .479 on-base percentage and .977 slugging percentage. He won't continue at anything close to this pace, because no one ever has. But he is demonstrating that his ceiling, to use the modern scouting word for upside potential, looks something like the Sistine Chapel.

There is another way to look at Buxton now that he is producing like the star the Twins always thought he would be.

He is the most exciting Twin since Kirby Puckett.

Joe Mauer was historically good when healthy, but he was a catcher who, with the exception of 2009, specialized in well-placed singles and walks.

Justin Morneau earned an MVP award in 2006 and was performing at an even higher level when injured in 2010, but he wasn't the athlete that Buxton is, because few big-leaguers are.

Torii Hunter provided similar thrills and power to Buxton, but wasn't as fast, didn't cover as much ground and peaked at 31 home runs and 23 steals in different seasons. Buxton could hit 40 and steal 30 bases in the same season.

Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano were compelling starting pitchers, but they might perform just once a week and never be required to break into a sprint.

Even the great Puckett wasn't as talented as Buxton.

Buxton runs faster, covers more ground, has a stronger arm, has more power and stolen-base potential.

Puckett remains the primary symbol of Minnesota sports greatness because of his hustle, personality and clutch play. But Buxton has a chance to be better than Puckett.

Puckett had two clear advantages over Buxton:

1. Puckett could swing at a bad pitch and hit it on a line just about anywhere in the ballpark. Buxton will have to be more selective than Puckett to succeed.

2. Puckett was forged out of cast iron. He never went on the disabled list until he woke up blind in the spring of 1996. Buxton will have to prove that the quick-twitch muscles that make him exceptional can perform on a daily basis over a six-month season.

If he stays healthy — and, yes, "if he stays healthy" is the key phrase regarding Buxton, his teammates and the Twins' chances this season — Buxton will be a player unlike any other in Twins history.

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