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Buxton, Sano 'rusty' but making strides

Twins' top two prospects refining swings, readying for Double-A
March 24, 2015

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Minnesota's top two prospects, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, had disappointing seasons disrupted by injuries in 2014. Now, the Twins duo is in action in Minor League camp, but neither is quite back to the form that drove them to the top of prospect lists.

Buxton missed time with a rash of injuries in 2014 -- a sprained wrist, a concussion and a broken finger. He's healthy and fully active in Minor League camp now, and though he's thrilled to be back, Minnesota's director of Minor League operations Brad Steil cautions that he isn't the same old Buxton just yet.

"I think he's rusty," Steil said. "I don't think right now he's where he was two years ago in terms of his swing. But he's getting there. He's making progress."

Buxton acknowledged it's been a long road back.

"It's been tough," Buxton said. "I still haven't gotten my swing down pat yet, but I feel good at the plate. I feel good about my at-bats. It's helping me along the way. My swing is coming."

Buxton does look good physically, though. He says he's added 10-15 pounds since last season, and it appears to be mostly muscle.

As far as the rust goes, the story is much the same for Sano, although Steil thinks the third baseman has progressed well in his first action since an elbow injury cost him the entire 2014 season.

"You can see that he's a little bit rusty," Steil said, "but maybe a little farther ahead than maybe you would expect after being out for so long."

Sano is playing without restriction after undergoing Tommy John surgery last March. Steil says he hasn't seen Sano "really let it go" on a throw from third yet, but he's confident that the third baseman's wing is once again a defensive asset.

"If it's not back, it's pretty close," Steil said. "I haven't seen him have any plays where he's had to go across the third-base line and make the throw all the way across, but I think we have a lot of confidence that he's fully healthy and his arm strength, if it's not all the way back, it's pretty close."

Change a team effort for Meyer

Minnesota's Alex Meyer walked more hitters than he struck out in the Grapefruit League this spring, and that left the 6-foot-9 right-hander surly about his performance. There was an important silver lining, though.

"My last game, I threw two [changeups] and I got two swings and misses," he said. "I don't know if I've ever done that before."

Meyer has been among Minnesota's top prospects -- he currently ranks third -- since the team acquired him from Washington for Denard Span following the 2012 season. Armed with an electric fastball and a power curve, he already has two-thirds of a Major League arsenal in Minnesota's estimation. But, as Steil said, a third pitch is "definitely something that he'll need in the big leagues" to be a starter.

Right now, Meyer's third pitch is his changeup. Last April, the University of Kentucky product received some unsolicited -- but much appreciated -- advice on the pitch from Triple-A teammates Yohan Pino and Deolis Guerra. The duo shared their grip with Meyer and offered tips on how to throw the pitch, giving Meyers hope that a solution was close.

Almost a year later, he's throwing the same pitch and throwing it better than ever.

"It's just more of a consistency thing," Meyer said. "[It's] something that I can go to more to throw strikes and be able to throw where I need it and make it look like a fastball. I'm confident I'm able to do that now.

"I'm not saying I have a Max Scherzer changeup by any means. But I have something I think is usable. Hopefully I can continue to improve on that."

Thorpe elbow injury 'disappointing'

News broke earlier this week that, for the second time in the last calendar year, Australian left-hander Lewis Thorpe had been sidelined with elbow pain. The Twins are now awaiting results of an MRI to determine if the 19-year-old will require surgery to address the discomfort.

The injury is especially disheartening for Minnesota because Thorpe had been pitching "as good as we've seen him throw," Steil said.

Thorpe suffered a minor UCL sprain late in the 2014 season and spent the offseason rehabbing the injury. He reported to Spring Training early and the Twins were thrilled with his progress. In one intrasquad game, he was working 92-93 mph with "a pretty good curveball," said Steil.

His next time out, though, he threw about 10 pitches before feeling pain in his elbow and exiting the game.

"We haven't heard anything definitive yet, but it's disappointing because he was doing so well," Steil said.

Steil estimated the team would learn the results sometime next week.

Rosario candidate to stick in bigs

This time last year, Eddie Rosario was preparing to spend the first 50 games of the season on the sidelines -- the second baseman and outfielder was suspended for a second violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program that January. Nor did he help his standing with Twins fans on his return, hitting .237 in 79 Double-A games.

This season is already off to a much better start. Rosario has put himself in contention for a Major League roster spot with his play in big league camp. He knocked a walk-off single in Minnesota's 6-5 win over Toronto on Tuesday, raising his spring average to .256.

If nothing else, his performance may have earned him a bump out of Double-A for Opening Day.

"I think there's a pretty good chance, if he doesn't start with the big leagues, that he'll be in Triple-A," Steil said. "I think he's in the mix over there [in MLB camp]. For how much longer, we'll see, but he's played well."

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.