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Should the Twins move Buxton up in the batting order?

Buxton's finally having a breakout season at the plate.
Byron Buxton

One of the many, if not the biggest triumph in the 2019 Twins season is Byron Buxton finally turning a corner at the plate.

Through 40 games this season, Buxton is slashing .282/.338/.519 with a major league-leading 18 doubles, while still playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.

He's done this damage in the No. 9 spot in the batting order. One could argue if it isn't broke don't fix it, but at the same time, is it time to move Buxton up in the order?

Why they should

Let's start with the basics. When your offensive slash line is as good as Buxton's, you should probably be hitting at the top of the order.

Also, Buxton's speed would be a huge bonus at the top of the lineup with big boppers hitting behind him.

Since being drafted second overall in 2012, everyone envisioned Buxton as a top of the lineup guy and he spent the majority of his minor-league career hitting leadoff.

Max Kepler has been the Twins' primary leadoff hitter and he's racking up plenty of extra-base hits but also hitting .233, which is exactly on par with his career batting average. Meanwhile, his on-base percentage is .310, which again is in line with his career OBP of .313.

Now, Kepler is on pace for 34 home runs (currently has 9 on the season) and leadoff hitters are evolving from players with speed to players with power, but it might be better to move him down in the lineup.

With news that Nelson Cruz has been placed on the 10-day injured list with wrist pain, here's how I would construct the lineup with Buxton batting first. 

  1. Byron Buxton, CF
  2. Jorge Polanco, SS
  3. Eddie Rosario, LF
  4. Miguel Sano, DH
  5. C.J. Cron, 1B
  6. Max Kepler, RF
  7. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
  8. Jason Castro, C
  9. Marwin Gonzalez, 3B

That's still a pretty solid lineup. Marwin Gonzalez is finally starting to turn a corner and he's an ideal hitter to round out the order. Also, Gonzalez's versatility to play multiple positions will open the door for players to take an off day.

It also allows for Miguel Sano to ease his way back in the lineup, and this is also assuming Willians Astudillo has days off. But another issue arises when Garver and Cruz return from the injured list. 

Those are more pressing and important questions manager Rocco Baldelli will have to answer, and they'll take precedence over where Buxton is placed in the order. 

Why they shouldn't

Only the Houston Astros have a better team batting average than the Twins, but regardless, Minnesota is near the top in the majority of offensive statistics.

Even with Garver and Cruz on the injured list, this lineup is still humming along just fine. Jonathan Schoop moved up to third in the order with Cruz out on Thursday. Here's what the lineup looked against the Mariners.

  1. Max Kepler, RF 
  2. Jorge Polanco, SS
  3. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
  4. Eddie Rosario, LF
  5. C.J. Cron, DH 
  6. Marwin Gonzalez, 1B 
  7. Miguel Sano, 3B 
  8. Jason Castro, C 
  9. Byron Buxton, CF

That lineup scored 11 runs in a rout over Seattle and even though it's silly to assume they'll do that every time, it's a lineup fans should still feel confident about. 

However, the single most important reason for not moving Buxton up in the lineup is to avoid rushing him into a more pressure-packed position. He's obviously very comfortable batting ninth, and if you move him up in the order, he'll likely see tougher pitches to hit.

On Opening Day in 2017, Paul Molitor penciled Buxton in as his No. 3 hitter for the first four games of the season. The results were awful. He struck out a ton and was banished towards the bottom the order and it took him about three months to dig out of it.

Kepler might not be hitting for average, but he's still on pace for 60 walks and 34 home runs. That's still a solid top of the order hitter. Even though his ceiling might not be as high as Buxton's, he's clearly comfortable and productive being the leadoff hitter.

Where in Buxton's case, we just don't know if he can handle that responsibility yet at the Major League level. Unless Kepler, or even Polanco, suffers an injury that forces Rocco Baldelli's hand, that might be the only way Buxton moves up in the order in the short term.  

In the meantime, Buxton can continue to rake at the bottom of the order and set the table to turn things over to the top of the lineup.

There's nothing wrong with him getting on base with the top of order waiting to drive him in.

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