Make-or-Break: Can Buxton and Sano put it all together in 2019?

In discussions regarding Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, one word that Twins fans have heard all too often is “potential.” Miguel Sano has the “potential” to hit 40 homers in a season. Buxton has the “potential” to be a legit five-tool player. With all of this talk about potential, one would think that the duo would be a pair of MVP caliber players heading into 2019. Instead, they are both coming off of the worst years of their young careers. Is 2019 the year that this duo can finally put together the All-Star-caliber seasons that they seem to be capable?

The first step toward career years for both is availability. Aside from Buxton’s 2017 season in which he played 140 games, neither player has been able to reach 120 games played. Last season was particularly lost for both players. Sano appeared in only 71 Major League contests while Buxton was limited to just 28. Those are the fewest amount of games played by either player since their careers started. If these two are going to officially make the jump to top-tier MLB talent, it will start with both setting career highs in games played. 145-plus games for the Twins players will need to be the standard moving forward.

In order to play a high number of games for the Twins in 2019, Buxton and Sano will actually need to earn the playing time as well as stay healthy. While both players will be expected to be in the Opening Day starting lineup, the leash on both players should be shorter than ever. Both Buxton and Sano posted their worst seasons to date in 2018 according to almost every metric, advanced and non-advanced.

Sano put together a lackluster slashline of .199/.281/.398 while hitting 13 home runs in 299 plate appearances. Plate discipline has never been a strong part of Sano’s game, but in 2018 he set a career-high K% with 38.5%, the highest in the majors among players with 250 or more PA. Sano’s woes will only continue until he can bring down his strikeouts and find a way to get on base more often.

Buxton only had 94 appearances in 2018 but he looked lost at the plate for the majority of them. For batters with at least 90 appearances, only Trayce Thompson had a lower wRC+ than Buxton’s -3. Buxton’s OPS+ of 4 also jumps off of his stat page. Although he did not have a large amount of plate appearances, his lack of plate discipline and inability to get on base that have plagued him throughout his career (as Twins fans know all too well) were still as present as ever before.

These stats certainly don’t scream “franchise cornerstones” when you look at them. Especially not when Eddie Rosario is coming off a career year in which he produced a 3.6 bWAR and a 115 OPS+ and number one prospect Royce Lewis is making quick work of the minor leagues. Nonetheless, Sano and Buxton still have some of the greatest raw talent in the Twins organization. If Sano and Buxton can recapture some of the success from earlier in their careers, they can still be the most important players for the 2019 Twins and beyond.

Before the 2018 season, it looked like both players had begun to realize their potential. Sano has proven that he can be an impactful hitter throughout his four years in the big leagues, particularly in his 2015 rookie season and his 2017 season. Sano burst onto the scene with 18 HR and a wRC+ of 149 in 335 PA during his rookie year and followed up with 25 and 28 homers in 2016 and 2017, respectively. It may be a tall order, but if Sano can learn from his mistakes in 2018 and build on his other previous seasons, he could be a huge force in this Twins lineup.

While Buxton has been arguably both the fastest man and best defensive outfielder in baseball over his short career, his struggles at the plate have been well-documented. He appeared to have figured it out in the second half of the 2017 season. In 56 games during the second half of 2017 he hit for a .300 BA with an .893 OPS. He lowered his K% to 27.6% and showed off some pop with 11 HR. This was it. This was the Byron Buxton we were promised when the Twins drafted him second overall in the 2012 draft. You wouldn’t have been able to tell that he was coming off of this success if you watched him in 2018, as he reverted back to his old self and then some. If Buxton could produce like he did in the second half of 2017 throughout an entire season, he would be firmly placed in the MVP discussion.

The offseason additions of Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, and Nelson Cruz will make up an interesting part of the puzzles that are Buxton and Sano. These power hitters will offer Sano some protection in the lineup but will force Buxton to try and become more of a table-setter. New manager Rocco Baldelli will look to Buxton and Jorge Polanco to emerge as consistent threats to get on base. One certainty is that Buxton and Sano will need to produce if this Twins lineup is going to be successful in 2019.

2019 is the most important season for Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to date. Entering their age 25 and 26 season respectively (Sano turns 26 in May), the excuse of being young players with “potential” is fading fast. This could be the season in which Buxton and Sano finally realize that potential that Twins Territory has been hearing about for all these years.

Featured Photo: Keith Allison/Flickr

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