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Byron Buxton says injuries took away who he's 'supposed to be'

Buxton is healthy and excited to be back in center field this season.
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Byron Buxton is healthy. Healthy to that point that he'll start the 2024 season in center field after spending all of last year as the designated hitter before a knee injury ended his season after only 85 games. 

It was Buxton's ninth season in the big leagues and the eighth that he's played fewer than 100 games as injuries have ravaged his career after he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft. 

"Even though things don't go the way that I wanted to, you gotta stay positive. Not physically but mentally," Buxton said at TwinsFest during a conversation with WCCO Radio's Vineeta Sawkar on Saturday. "Mentally it's a little bit more of a struggle because you want to go out there and do what you're supposed to do. Do your job, make the fans happy, dive for balls, hit home runs, all the things that we love to do. And when that's taken away, I wouldn't say depression set in, but you just don't feel like you are who you're supposed to be."

Buxton is supposed to be a monster in the middle of Minnesota's lineup and a Gold Glove defensive player in center field. 

In nine seasons, there have been two strong glimpses of who Buxton was supposed to be every year. In 2017, a 23-year-old Buxton played 145 games and had 16 homers, 14 doubles, six triples and 29 stolen bases while winning a Gold Glove. And in 61 games during an injury-plagued 2021 season he slashed .306/.358/.647 (1.005 OPS) with 19 homers and 23 doubles. He followed that up with 23 homers in the first half of the 2022 season and wound up homering in the All-Star Game before injuries limited him to 19 games in the second half. 

Any of those versions of Buxton would be a boon to Minnesota's lineup in 2024. And playing defense again is what Buxton believes will help him at the plate. 

"I'm happy to be back in center," Buxton told Sawkar. "DH'ing, it's mental. When you can't go out there and dive for a ball and take away hit from somebody else, you start getting in your head a little bit. It's just one of those domino effects when you don't stop the overthinking or don't stop the negative thoughts you just keep digging yourself in that hole."

Buxton was never healthy in 2023. In fact, the knee surgery that he underwent last October, he knew it was coming way back in July when he was trying to play through pain. 

"I didn't let myself get down or let myself get depressed or whatever. I stayed even-keeled and it allowed me to play as much as I could last year. And then when it happened, it happened. That's when it really kind of set in, like I knew I was getting surgery way before probably anybody else did. I knew that in July," Buxton admitted. 

If Buxton can stay healthy, the sky is the limit. 

Byron Buxton

Jul 29, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Minnesota Twins designated hitter Byron Buxton (25) doubles against the Kansas City Royals during the eighth inning at Kauffman Stadium.