For your confusion: Twins outfielders Keon Broxton and Byron Keiron Buxton

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Phil Miller, Star Tribune
·5 min read
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FORT MYERS, Fla. – Twins games have featured a series of spectacular home-run-robbing catches ever since Byron Buxton joined the team in 2015, but this one may have been the most breathtaking of all. Fourth of July, a sellout crowd, ninth inning of a tight game — and a full-extension leap to snag the baseball by the glovetips, well beyond the center-field wall.

Dazzling. Game-saving. "I'll never forget that one," agreed the man who caught it.

The most remarkable part? It wasn't Buxton. It was a Play-of-the-Year savant who is now competing to become his backup.

Keon Broxton, one of a small handful of ballplayers on the planet who could have stolen Brian Dozier's all-but-certain home run and preserve the Brewers' 3-2 win that 2018 holiday afternoon in Milwaukee, says he daydreams about the doubles, triples and home runs that he and Buxton could eat for dessert if they teamed up in the Twins' outfield.

"We could cover some ground. I mean, it'd be fun to watch," Broxton said after a workout with his new team. "Having both of us out there would take a lot of tension off the pitchers. I'd like to see how many runs we could save."

Count Rocco Baldelli among the intrigued, too. The Twins' manager has a couple of vacancies to fill in his outfield, both for a starter to replace Eddie Rosario and a reserve to take LaMonte Wade Jr.'s place. The 30-year-old Broxton stands out as the most experienced candidate, the only one with a 20-homer season in his background — and that talent for Buxtonesque heroics.

"When you have the ability to put elite defenders out there, you always have to give it real thought, and understand how valuable that can be to winning a ballgame," Baldelli said. "I've had the opportunity to watch some tremendous defensive clubs and see how games are won that way. Keon offers that sort of defense, the kind that can enhance a club beyond what many people might think."

And if you have one player like that, imagine what two could do. Would you even need a third outfielder out there?

"It would be a blast," Buxton agreed. One problem? "People would get us mixed up a lot," he said.

They already do, actually. Both are speedy young outfielders, accomplished base-stealers, and surprising power hitters. Their careers have been notable for fantastic catches and painful crashes — Broxton once broke his wrist by running headlong into Wrigley Field's ivy-covered brick wall. And if the names Buxton and Broxton don't seem like a typo of one another, how about this: Buxton's middle name is Keiron, which, pronounced quickly enough, sounds nearly indistinguishable.

"If you look at the name on my driver's license, you'd think it's Broxton," Buxton said. As if to prove his point, while Buxton was being tested on Saturday, a team trainer got them confused.

"He comes over and says, 'Oh no, you have the wrong person!' I was like, 'Naw, you don't. That's me!' And he was like, 'Are you sure that's you?'" Buxton said. "It's one of those things that's real fun and keeps everyone loose."

Now Broxton wants to break loose at the plate, the one problem that has plagued his career. He batted .242 as a rookie in 2016, and even added nine homers in 244 plate appearances. But his average has fallen every season, bottoming out at .167 in 2019, and while he hit 20 homers in 2017, he hasn't been able to get on base enough to warrant an everyday spot in the lineup.

That's what Milwaukee decided in 2018, adding All-Stars Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to their outfield and sending Broxton bouncing around the league, looking for steady work. "I can't blame them, those are two great players, but I had to take a back seat," he said. He received opportunities with the Mets, Orioles and Mariners, but never hit enough to last, and eventually returned to the Brewers last year, then spent the summer at their alternate site in Appleton, Wis., without earning a call-up.

But it may have been a blessing, Broxton said, because he feels like he solved some problems with his swing.

"I tried to take it by the horns, figure it out and get better. I'm excited to see how much all of my work will pay off," Broxton said. "I'm getting more into my legs, standing more stationary, and firing everything from my back end. I'm tightening up my swing, making it a little bit shorter, bringing my elbow in tight. I had to find my swing again, and it's been a long process."

If it works, he could be an important cog on the bench. Perhaps even if it doesn't, too.

"His defense is his calling card. That versatility. That's what he should go show us in the course of camp," said president of baseball operations Derek Falvey, who signed Broxton to a minor league contract. "Offensively, anything on top of that he can show us, any way he can develop and make adjustments and grow, that's going to be gravy. We particularly see him as someone who can make a difference in our defense."