Sidelined for more than a week, Byron Buxton answered any questions about his ailing shoulder in his first at-bat Friday afternoon.
"I mostly just wanted to have a good at-bat, my first at-back back from my shoulder problem," the Twins' No. 1 prospect said. "I put a good swing on it, and it happend to go out."
Buxton homered in his first game back from a shoulder injury he suffered on Oct. 16 for Glendale, but Travis Mattair's bases-loaded error in the sixth inning helped give Salt River a 4-2 win on Friday in the Arizona Fall League.
Buxton, the No. 1 prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, hit his longball to left in the first inning off Rafters starter Drew Hutchinson, giving Glendale a lead that held up until the sixth, when Twins reliever Zack Jones walked the bases loaded and allowed a game-tying RBI single to Jacob Wilson (Cardinals). Mike Freeman (D-backs) followed with a sacrifice fly to plate Kyle Parker (Rockies), but Mattair overthrew his cutoff man, allowing Nick Ahmed (Braves) and Wilson to come home for a 4-1 edge.
Glendale managed one more run in the seventh when Yorman Rodriguez (Reds) hit a leadoff single and scored on a wild pitch from Matt Ramsey (Rays).
Buxton finished the game 1-for-4 -- he popped up in the third and sixth before taking a called third strike to leadoff the ninth -- but he said his shoulder passed all its tests both at the plate and in the field. He originally suffered the injury earlier last week on a check swing and has been rehabbing ever since.
"They asked me if I was good to go, and I said I felt pretty good," Buxton said. "It's pretty good, I just tried to play my game and not worry about my shoulder. If you worry about that, it kinda messes with your game."
The Georgia native had a slow start to his fall and came into Friday hitting .227 (5-for-22) in his first give games. He said he doesn't expect to have many days off going forward with regards to his arm.
"As of today, hopefully I'm in there tomorrow," he said.
Still just 19, Buxton broke out in 2013 with Class A Cedar Rapids and Class A Advanced Fort Myers, hitting .334 with 12 homers, 77 RBIs, 55 stolen bases and a .424 on-base percentage in 125 games. On Oct. 22, he learned he'd been awarded the Spinks Award as the Minor League Player of the Year from Topps. The 2012 first-round pick joined Mike Trout (2010), Delmon Young (2005) and Andruw Jones (1996) among those who have won the award as teenagers.
"I'm just blessed, God gave me the ability to play baseball, so I try to come out every day and use it," he said. "It's pretty special to be put in that group. I just want to keep playing hard and get up to the big leagues."
For Salt River, Anthony Ferrara (1-0) ended up with his first win after recording four outs between the fifth and sixth innings, and Matt Stites (D-backs) worked a perfect ninth for his first save. Glendale starter Charlie Leessman struck out one over two scoreless frames before Jones (0-1) took the loss, allowing four runs -- two earned -- on a hit and three walks.
Buxton, who is most likely ticketed for his Double-A debut in 2014, said the chance to face a variety of pitchers in Arizona will help him take the next step for the Twins.
"It'll definitely help out my development," he said. "This also tells me what I have to work and what I have to get better in. After the Fall League, I'll take a few weeks off and then go hard on the weights and baseball activities."
But for now, finally healthy, he's ready to enjoy his last few weeks in Glendale.
"It's been great. I'm just out here having fun, getting to play with new teammates and improve my game," he said. "I'm like everyone else, just trying to win a ring here."
Stites adjusting to new team
Stites, who picked up the save for Salt River, is getting his first taste of pitching for the D-backs. A 5-foot-11 right-hander, Stites spent his entire 2013 season with Double-A San Antonio in the Padres system but was traded to Arizona along with lefty Joe Thatcher and a 2014 Draft pick on July 31. He never saw time in the D-backs system due to an emergency appendectomy surgery the week of the trade.
Now with Salt River, the 22-year-old said it's an adjustment joining a new team and organization.
"It's definitely different. I find myself saying 'we' and still mentioning the Padres," he said. "But it's definitely a good experience and a good opportunity for me."
In six games, Stites has allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings, although most of them came in his first appearance. He hasn't allowed a run in each of his last four outings.
"I felt pretty good. I had a couple days off and I was working with Darryl [Scott], our pitching coach, on my arm angle," he said. "I was changing my arm angle and working on my two seam fastball. I was dropping my arm down and showing it to everybody.
"I feel great. Our trainers have worked with me on strengthening my core because I had gotten pretty weak," he added. "I sat around for a month not doing anything. Then I came out here in early September to build up my strength and get my arm back in shape."
Healthy and ready to prove himself, Stites said he's in Arizona with a mission to refine his secondary pitches.
"The two-seam, I'm still working on that a lot," said Stites, whose four-seamer has been clocked as high as 98 mph. "I'm really working on getting my feel back for everything. I'm working on my changeup here and there mixing it in to righties. But mostly the two-seam, because I know that's going to be huge for me."