The star attraction of the Chattanooga Lookouts is up and running.
And running often.
Center fielder Byron Buxton, the top-rated prospect throughout the minor leagues, had a dreary April but has sizzled so far in May. In three wins this past weekend over Jacksonville, the 21-year-old from Baxley, Ga., went 8-for-15 (.533) with three triples and two doubles and was every bit as stellar in the field.
"You're starting to see the full capability of this kid," Lookouts manager Doug Mientkiewicz said. "He's the leadoff hitter and the catalyst of the team. He can dictate our attitude from the first pitch of the game on, and we want him to be aggressive, because it sets a tone for us.
"When he is flying all over the bases, it's a good thing, and we all feed off that."
In Monday night's series finale against the Suns at AT&T Field, Buxton hit a two-run home run with one out in the ninth inning to deliver a 2-0 victory. Pitchers D.J. Baxendale, D.J. Johnson and Zack Jones combined on a six-hit shutout for the Lookouts, who improved to 13-11.
They are off today before beginning a five-game home series Wednesday night at 7:15 against the Jackson Generals.
Buxton was selected second overall by the Minnesota Twins in the 2012 draft but suffered through a disappointing 2014, when two wrist injuries limited him to 30 high-Single-A games and a concussion in his Double-A debut shut him down for the season. This year was not looking much better when the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder was hitting .190 after an 0-for-3 showing at Tennessee on April 26.
His performances since have been noticed around the Southern League, which named him Monday as hitter of the week.
"I probably was trying to do a little too much, and I wasn't playing my game," Buxton said. "I feel a lot better now, especially at the plate. I know I started out slow, but I'm grinding it out every day and starting to feel my strengths. I just want to keep getting better every day."
In the Monday-through-Sunday time frame used by the league in its weekly honors, Buxton went 14-for-29 (.483) and drew five walks. Four of his hits were triples, which is when his speed around the bases can be captivating for players and fans alike.
"He's got the best talent out here, and his speed is fun to watch," Lookouts second baseman Levi Michael said. "I haven't seen anybody else run like him. He seems to have every aspect of the game figured out, and I'm anxious to see him evolve over his career."
Buxton prefers his speed on defense -- "I like taking base hits away from anybody," he said -- and has put that on display in recent games as well.
Mientkiewicz likes the leadership Buxton provides even more than any of his tools. The manager believes Buxton has matured through the rough April the superstar endured, and he thinks the bad start could serve him well down the road.
"He stopped pressing and is not worrying about every swing or every at-bat," Mientkiewicz said. "Every part of minor league baseball is development, and we preach to them that there will be years that you struggle in the big leagues. It could be in your first year or it could be in your seventh year, but going through these struggles early in the minor leagues gives you a file in your brain to look back on.
"No hole is too big to dig yourself out of."
When Buxton scuffled out of the gate after last year's disappointment, there was the natural tendency to wonder if he may not live up to the hype. Now it's just the opposite, as this past week could only enhance the desire of Twins fans to see him in the majors.
"I would like to see him here the whole year, and that has nothing to do with me as a manager," Mientkiewicz said. "I want to see him have success, and too many times in baseball and in general today, these kids have a good two weeks and they move them. They are going to play a long time, so let them build that huge snowball of confidence to where nothing can deter them once they struggle again.
"His time is coming, and it's going to be sooner than later for sure."
Michael sprained his left ankle in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday night, when he was caught stealing second base. The 24-year-old former University of North Carolina standout was replaced by Stephen Wickens and will be checked out today.
In 18 games this season with the Lookouts, Michael is hitting .246 with two home runs and 12 RBIs.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
Quite the week
Chattanooga Lookouts center fielder Byron Buxton was hitting .190 after an 0-for-3 performance at Tennessee on April 26. Then he caught fire:
Date -- Line -- Avg.
April 27 -- 2-for-4 -- .210
April 28 -- 1-for-3 -- 215
April 29 -- 1-for-3 -- .221
April 30 -- 2-for-4 -- .236
May 1 -- 3-for-4 -- .263
May 2 -- 3-for-5 -- .284
May 3 -- 2-for-6 -- .287