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Updated: June 10th, 2013 10:15pm
Zulgad: Byron Buxton mania appears set to move on from Cedar Rapids

Zulgad: Byron Buxton mania appears set to move on from Cedar Rapids

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by Judd Zulgad

Willie Mays was hitting .477 and had an eye-popping .799 slugging percentage in May 1951 when the New York Giants called up the phenom from the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association.

Giants owner Horace Stoneham received enough negative feedback about pulling Mays out of Minneapolis after 35 games that he attempted to smooth things over by placing an ad in the Sunday Minneapolis Tribune that explained the 20-year-old center fielder deserved a shot in the big leagues.

Sixty-two years later, it's unclear if the Minnesota Twins are going to have to follow Stoneham's lead and put an ad in the Cedar Rapids Gazette to apologize when they promote another center field phenom, 19-year-old Byron Buxton, from their Class A affiliate in that Iowa city.

Unlike Mays, Buxton won't be headed to the majors, but he has proven time-and-time again in the first two-plus months that he's ready to show what he can do at high Class A Fort Myers and, perhaps, above that.

Buxton, whom the Twins selected out of Appling County (Ga.) High School with the second-overall pick of the 2012 first-year player draft, has caused such a buzz that Twin Cities media outlets and Twins fans have been making regular trips 4½ hours southeast to see the kid.

He hasn't disappointed.

Buxton is hitting .350 with seven home runs, 47 RBI, a .444 on-base percentage and a .578 slugging percentage in 58 games.

Fans and media aren't the only ones throwing around superlatives to describe Buxton. Twins executives and coaches, some of whom are not easily impressed, also are having a difficult time not getting caught up in Buxton mania.

Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who serves as the Twins' roving minor league instructor, was en route to Cedar Rapids last Thursday when he was asked about Buxton's 5-for-6 performance from the night before that included a double and two triples.

"The struggles continue," Molitor said, laughing.

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly has never been prone to throwing around praise when it comes to young players, but even he can't help himself when it comes to Buxton.

"Once he figures a few things out, I'd have to put him, in terms of speed, right up there with Willie Wilson and Devon White," Kelly told the Star Tribune's Jim Souhan, referring to two of the fastest players from the 1980s. "My goodness, gracious, I know we're putting the cart before the horse here, but oh, boy, is he going to be entertaining."

Buxton mania hasn't slowed a bit since Kelly and others sang the young man's praises in Souhan's article.

In fact, it has only increased.

Fox Sports North, which airs Twins games, jumped on the bandwagon on Monday afternoon, televising Cedar Rapids' 6-2 victory over Kane County.

Buxton went 3-for-4 with three runs batted in, a double, a triple and a run. But his performance at the plate did not come close to the defensive play he made in the second inning.

Kane County's David Bote hit a drive to left center that appeared headed to the gap and out of the reach of Buxton, who had been shaded toward right-center. Buxton, however, used his blazing speed to pursue the drive, dived from just in front of the warning track and made the catch while extended out.

He slid to a halt just before hitting the wall and somehow made it all look routine as he calmly emerged from the dirt of the track.

The catch was the type Mays made during his Hall of Fame career and will only cause the hype machine to go to the next level. In Buxton's case it appears to be deserved. The only question is whether he's a mix of Willie, Mickey and the Duke or just Willie and Mickey.

This doesn't mean Buxton had a perfect day Monday. He was picked off first base and caught stealing for the 10th time this season. Molitor has said that if Buxton needs work on anything it's his base running, but he still has a team-leading 26 stolen bases and, according to some, has jets attached to his shoes.

It is going to be interesting to see how the Twins manage this situation. This is a team coming off back-to-back seasons of 99 and 96 losses and in the midst of another year that will end with another finish under .500.

The thought process on the Twins long has been that they won't rush players and, at times, will be too patient (see Gibson, Kyle). That changed a bit this spring with the decision to have center fielder Aaron Hicks make the jump from Double-A New Britain to the big leagues.

That move was made largely out of necessity with Denard Span and Ben Revere traded during the offseason and Joe Benson and Darin Mastroianni ineffective and injured, respectively, coming out of spring training.

But the Twins are going to have to do something to generate excitement in 2014 and putting guys like third baseman Miguel Sano, who was moved from Fort Myers to New Britain this week, and Buxton on the fast track might be the answer.

Would this put unfair pressure on Buxton? Sure.

But here's the catch. We live in a day and age where a guy like Buxton already has his every minor league plate appearance dissected by many. If they aren't watching him on the Internet, they are following his at-bats on it.

The pressure already exists, the only question is how quickly Buxton can convince the Twins he's ready to deal with it at the highest level.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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