CEDAR RAPIDS - Much of the Twin Cities found out Monday afternoon what anyone who has been out to Veterans Memorial Stadium this season already knew.
This Byron Buxton kid? He's not bad.
The uber-prospect wowed 3,359 fans in person and those who tuned in to the Minnesota Twins television flagship station with an amazing individual performance that lifted the Cedar Rapids Kernels to a 6-2 win over Kane County. FSN North telecast the game live, complete with in-studio analysis and on-field interviews.
Buxton didn't disappoint a soul, going 3-for-4 with a double, triple and RBI, and making three outstanding catches in center field, including one of the over-the-head diving variety that you'll probably see on ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays of the day. At least you'd better see it.
"He took over that game," said Kernels manager Jake Mauer. "You can't put it any way else. He wasn't going to lose that game. He wasn't going to let it happen."
Buxton claimed he didn't know this was a TV game until Mauer informed all of the Kernels in the dugout. He didn't begin in an auspicious fashion, either, getting picked off cleanly by Kane County starting pitcher Pierce Johnson in the first inning after leading off with a sharp single up the middle.
But thus ends the low lights for the 19-year-old Georgian. He smoked a three-run double into the left-center gap in the fifth inning to put Cedar Rapids on top, 5-0, and tripled into the right-center gap in the seventh, simply out-legging the relay attempt.
"Pretty good game, I guess," Buxton said. "Besides getting picked off. That happens. He had a real good pickoff move. I just stayed in there, tried to stay focused. Got some good pitches to hit."
His defense was just as good as his offense, if not better. He made things look incredibly easy in running down deep fly balls in the second and sixth innings, but the grab that had the Twitter world buzzing came in the third.
K.C.'s David Bote drove a ball to the deepest part of the ballpark in left-center, with Buxton sprinting back and to his right, diving head long at the last second to snag it, landing on the warning track at the 407-foot sign.
Best catch you've ever seen?
"Yes, because I was pitching," said Kernels starter Mason Melotakis. "That was incredible, man. He's a rare breed. A rare breed."
"I saw it off the bat real well," Buxton said. "The more the ball got up in the air, the more it carried. The more I had to put my wheels on. The closer I got to it, the more it was like 'I'm going to get this.' I just dove and grabbed for it."
He said he didn't realize how perilously close he came to smashing his head into the fence. That could have been ugly.
"Most of the time, I hear myself on the warning track, but I was still on the grass when I dove," he said. "It hurt. I'm sore."
Surely, Buxton will be promoted to high-Class A Fort Myers at the all-star break next week, as he has conquered the low-A level, without a doubt. The Twins promoted three players from Fort Myers to Double-A New Britain on Sunday, including similarly touted prospect Miguel Sano, starting the Buxton-to-Fort Myers rumors.
Mauer said he believes Buxton will remain in Cedar Rapids this week, though he quickly added he was surprised when the Twins promoted pitchers Tyler Duffey and Miguel Soliman to high-A last week.
"I think he'll be here. I hope so. But you never know," Mauer said. "Last week, I'm eating Gogurt with my 4-year-old and 2-year-old at home, and the phone rings. They're taking Duffey, and they're taking Soliman. I'm like 'Oh, jeez.' That's how it goes."
Melotakis (6-2) threw seven shutout innings as the Kernels improved to 39-23, 1 1/2 games up on Beloit in the Midwest League's Western Division. The club heads to Quad Cities for games Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before returning home to conclude the first half for three games against Peoria.
In other words, if you want to see Byron Buxton play for the Kernels, you've got six more chances to do so. Maybe.
Here is the game boxscore: