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Twins hope (and need) to have Byron Buxton back in center field to start next season

Gilberto Celestino led the 2022 Twins in games at center field with 90

MLB: New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton hits a three-run home run against the New York Yankees during the second inning on June 9, 2022, at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Nick Wosika / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — Can you guess who played the most games in center field for the Minnesota Twins in 2022?

All due respect to Gilberto Celestino, the answer was not the guy the Twins were hoping it would be. In the first year of Byron Buxton’s seven-year, $100 million deal, the 23-year-old Celestino finished the season with 90 games in center field to Buxton’s 57.

But when Buxton was on the field — and in the lineup — he put up all-star numbers. But once again his season was cut short by injury.

2022 recap

Buxton, 28, provided his fair share of highlight-reel plays in 2022 — from a walk-off home run off White Sox closer Liam Hendriks to a pivotal home run at the All-Star Game to help lift the American League to victory to a starting an 8-5 triple play, the first of its kind in Major League Baseball history.

But Buxton’s season was disrupted by knee pain — the Twins called it a severe case of tendinitis — that bothered him from the beginning. To help him cope with it, the Twins carefully managed his workload, giving him days off and days where he served as the team’s designated hitter to lighten the stress on his knee.

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While Buxton said he would spend hours — sometimes as many as 4 1/2 — in the training room and doing other things to prepare him to play, that plan did succeed at keeping him on the field until August, when a hip strain forced him to the injured list for the first time all season.

Buxton played in 92 games, falling just shy of reaching the 100-game mark for the second time in his eight-year career. During those games, he posted a .833 OPS and hit a career-high 28 home runs. Of his 76 hits, 44 went for extra-bases. In the process, he earned his first all-star nod. He also posted a 4.0 bWAR (Wins Above Replacement per Baseball Reference), which was third on the team despite the amount of time he missed.

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The Twins finally placed Buxton on the injured list on Aug. 23 and he never returned, missing a crucial month of September that spiraled away from the Twins. Buxton’s season ended with an arthroscopic clean-up surgery in his right knee that the Twins hope will eliminate the issues moving forward.

In his absence, Celestino primarily handled center field duties. While he took a step forward from his 23-game 2021 season, Celestino made his fair share of mental mistakes, especially on the basepaths. One even earned him a benching from manager Rocco Baldelli, a drastic measure that the manager typically does not resort to.

2023 outlook

The recovery process for his surgery, Buxton said before undergoing the knife, was expected to be about six to eight weeks, and at this point, it has been about a month since he had his surgery.

Buxton said he was anticipating a relatively normal offseason, and president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said some of the reason they did the surgery when they did was so they would have more time to assess Buxton’s running gait and style to see if there was anything they could potential adjust to prevent further injury.

The hope is that when Buxton reports to camp in February, his knee issue is behind him.

Celestino and even Nick Gordon can spell Buxton when he needs time off, but the Twins could also opt to search for another outfielder whom they feel comfortable plugging in if Buxton misses a prolonged again period of time next year.

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