The talent has never really been in question when it comes to former Minnesota Twins phenom center fielder Byron Buxton.
Buxton has been a Top 10 prospect in all of baseball by most of the respected resources who undertake such analysis for the last four years, including prior to this 2016 season.
For Baseball America, Buxton was the #2 prospect in the game in each of the past two seasons. He was their Minor League Player of the Year following the 2013 campaign, and was subsequently named as their #1 prospect prior to the 2014 season.
Baseball Prospectus and the folks at MLB.com each had Buxton as their #1 overall prospect prior to both the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and then placed him at #2 in the game this year.
Even his power generally graded out as a 60, and there were scouts who believed he could eventually grow into more.
But there were two problems with the now 22-year old that kept cropping up. First was a penchant for injuries.
Invited to spring training with the Twins for the first time in 2014, Buxton injured his wrist, causing him to miss the entire month of April that season.
Activated in early May, he re-injured the wrist. Later that summer while playing with AA New Britain, Buxton was involved in a nasty collision in the outfield, suffered a concussion, and was shut down for the season.
Buxton began the 2015 season again considered one of the top two prospects in the game, and finally received his first promotion to Minnesota on June 14th.
Just 10 games into his big league career, Buxton suffered a sprained thumb, and found himself back on the disabled list.
After spending the better part of a month and a half on the DL, and with Aaron Hicks playing well in a surprisingly contending Twins lineup, Buxton was activated and optioned to AAA Rochester.
Buxton was given the opportunity to open this season as the Twins starting center fielder. However, after hitting just .156 over the first 17 games and striking out at an alarming rate, he was demoted back to Rochester.
After a month back in the minors, Buxton was brought back to Minnesota as May was ending. But from the time of that call-up through play on August 5th, he hit for just a .204/.257/.322 slash line with just one home homer and eight steals over 169 plate appearances.
Just as alarmingly, Buxton was showing no progress in pitch recognition or in plate discipline. He struck out 56 times during that stretch of more than two months, a pace that would equate to 198 punchouts over a full season.
Buxton was again demoted to AAA, where he would remain until rosters were expanded on September 1st.
Returned at that time to the big leagues, he was once again inserted into the Twins starting lineup and given yet another opportunity to play every day. This time, the results have been startling.
Sep 7, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Buxton (25) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run during the fifth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Target Field. The Twins won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Well, startling perhaps to those who might have begun questioning his abilities. The natural talent had never left.
What Buxton seemed to return with was a new attitude, a demonstrable sense that he belonged here, and wasn't going back again.
Inserted into the lineup on September 1st, he has not been out of it since. Over 10 games, Buxton has gone 15-37, fashioning a .405/.436/.919 slash line.
All of the talent and ability has been on full display. He has bashed five homers and driven in 13 runs, scoring a dozen times, and has 14 extra-base hits over 40 plate appearances.
Buxton has also continued to play a sensational center field. His raw speed allows him to cover more ground than even the typical speedy center fielder, and he has a ballhawk mentality matched by only a couple of other youngsters at the position.
While the power numbers are clearly unsustainable over the long haul, they are certainly more than encouraging for the Twins and their future.
Buxton's power output could return to more reasonable levels, and he can still arguably be said to have offensive room to grow.
After all, he has no triples or stolen bases during this latest stretch. Those will be staples in his game in future seasons.
This has been an extremely positive two weeks for the Minnesota Twins and this key piece to their future. What Buxton is doing now is setting the team and their fans minds at ease for that future.
It would not at all surprise me to see Buxton emerge as an AL All-Star caliber player as soon as next year. That 2017 season will look like his breakout.
But those paying attention will remember that it was really now, in September of 2016, when a star was truly born in the Twin Cities