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Updated: July 3rd, 2014 11:53pm
Zulgad: Tough luck; this year could have given Buxton a taste of MLB

Zulgad: Tough luck; this year could have given Buxton a taste of MLB

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Twins entered their four-game Holiday weekend series against the New York Yankees seven-games under .500 (38-45) and in last place in the AL Central, 10 games behind the Detroit Tigers.

Even before Thursday's loss with ace Phil Hughes on the mound, they were 3-7 in their past 10 games and had lost two of three to the Kansas City Royals after going 1-5 on a road trip against the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers.

All of this has led to the expectation that the second half of the season will resemble the final 81 games of every year since 2011. Considering the Twins' loss totals in the past three seasons have been 99, 96 and 96 that is not a good thing.

The thing the Twins have going for them this summer is that despite their struggles they will play host to the All-Star Game on July 15 at Target Field. That is a week from this Tuesday.

The question then becomes this: What's going to be the selling point for this team come July 16 when there are still 37 home dates remaining on the schedule?

The answer should have been that Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton mania would have been launched in downtown Minneapolis.

Forget Joe Mauer being out because of a strained oblique muscle or any other injury the Twins have dealt with at the big-league level this season, the fact Sano and Buxton have had lost seasons is the worst blow the 2014 Twins have suffered.

There were many who projected last winter the power-hitting Sano would be playing third base for the Twins by now, but that was before he underwent Tommy John surgery on right elbow in March. Now, the best-case scenario is that he will be able to return late in the minor league season and get some at-bats.

The plan for Buxton, still ranked by many as the best prospect in baseball, was to have him play much of this season at Double-A New Britain. But Buxton injured his left wrist during spring training and aggravated the issue in early May playing for Single-A Fort Myers. He has yet to return.

There was no guarantee Buxton was going to get the call from the Twins as early as July, but if you give it some thought it would have made sense to get him to Target Field from both a baseball and business standpoint.

The latter's perspective is obvious. Working under the assumption that Sano underwent surgery, Buxton would have been a guy the Twins could have used to create some excitement and drive ticket sales.

Twins fans have heard enough Buxton hype that they would have been curious what he can do in center field, especially since he is expected to be a fixture in that spot for years to come.

The call on when Buxton would have been brought to the major leagues would have rested with general manager Terry Ryan and there is a chance, if he was satisfied that Buxton was progressing, that he would have wanted the 20-year-old in the bigs.

In addition to feeling sure that Buxton was ready, the next question would have been whether Buxton's confidence could have withstood the inevitable struggles that he would have gone through facing pitching at this level?

Assuming that answer was yes, and it should have been, Buxton could have benefitted and learned some valuable lessons before entering next season as the Twins' starting center fielder.

Buxton is not on the 40-man roster and there are some who will point to the fact the Twins would never make the move to start his big-league service time. That's working under the assumption the Twins are concerned about Buxton's clock due to his arbitration status.

However, the reality the Twins are going to face is it won't matter when they start Buxton's clock because logic says that if he's as good as we expect him to be, the team is going to have to give him a mult-year, multi-million contract before he ever gets to the arbitration table.

This is the growing trend in baseball and if the Twins want to be relevant again they are going to have to pay huge money to guys like Sano and Buxton and they need to do it before those players even sniff free agency.

If this doesn't happen, then all of those calling the franchise cheap are suddenly going to have a legitimate point and one that isn't simply made up because the Twins failed to give Robinson Cano 10 years.

Another argument against Buxton being called up this season would be from those who say he is too young and needs the experience. But if Buxton had hit Double-A pitching as well as many expected, his path to the Twins would have been fast tracked.

This isn't a decent prospect we're talking about, it's one of the best in baseball. There are many examples of teams getting a top prospect to the majors, including Angels standout Mike Trout.

Trout was summoned from Double-A on July 8, 2011 and proceeded to hit .163 with one home run and six runs batted in in 12 starts with the Angels before being sent back down.

He was recalled in mid-August of that same season and finished the season hitting .220/.281/.390 with five home runs and 16 RBI in 40 games. That taste of major league experience helped him hit .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs and 83 RBI the following season.

Would Buxton have struggled like Trout did in his first stint but might that have had long-term benefits? For 2014 that likely will be impossible to say.

And for everyone involved, including the Twins, Buxton and the fans, that's too bad.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. 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.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Phil Hughes, Joe Mauer
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