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Buxton Shines, Kernels Fly By Great Lakes

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Brad Steil was one cold man Thursday night, sitting in the elements at Veterans Memorial Stadium for a laborious three-hour and 20-minute baseball game. But the Minnesota Twins farm director was surely one happy man, too.

Watching Byron Buxton do his considerable thing had to make him that way.

"He has a lot of talent," Steil said, after the Cedar Rapids Kernels' 16-7 win over the Great Lakes Loons. "You can see why he went second in the draft last year. The impressive thing is that you see how improved he is from last season already. He's picked up so much."

"Buck" continues to impress everyone. He went 3-for-5 with a walk, four runs and five RBIs to help the Kernels improve to 13-5. He hit a majestic, towering three-run home run to left field in the second inning that landed on 8th Street SW and bounced onto the roof of an adjacent house.

That's the second time he's done that in the first three weeks of the season. His already gaudy batting average is up to .419, tops in the Midwest League.

If you haven't seen this kid play, do so. He's an absolute treat, a legit five-tool talent who surely is headed for a major league outfield some day - maybe sooner rather than later.

"I'm still seeing the ball real well," Buxton said. "Hitting the ball, hitting the ball in spots. I've got great teammates to drive me in. It's always fun to be on a team like that."

"I think it was instructional league (last fall) when he started to come on," Steil said. "The GCL (Gulf Coast League) last year, he started something like 0-for-25 after he signed with us. Then he started to pick it up and played all right at Elizabethton. But I think it was instructional league where he started to figure things out. You started to see the tools and the talent. Now it's obvious."

Buxton was asked if he might be surprising himself by what he has done early. This is a 19-year-old kid making a big jump from Rookie ball to low-Class A.

And doing it in what has generally been cold and wet weather.

"A little bit," he said. "I knew I had what it took to get out here and perform. I'm just out here having fun and playing my game. Letting it flow, and seeing the ball very well. I guess the outcome is showing."

Steil was asked the same question.

"That's just indicative of the kind of kid he is," Steil said. "He's confident, coachable. He has made a lot of progress. It's exciting for us."

Locals have compared Buxton to Los Angeles Angels star outfielder Mike Trout, who also was a teenage center fielder when he tore up the Midwest League for the Kernels in 2010. It's so early, but thus far Buxton has been every bit as good as Trout was here, if not better.

That's so incredible to say.

"He's just an all-around great player. He can do it all," Buxton said of Trout. "I just want to be somewhat close to him in my performance. I just want to get to the big leagues."

The Kernels also got a three-run home run from Adam Brett Walker and walked 12 times against three Great Lakes pitchers. Tyler Jones got the win in relief.

The teams play again Friday night at 6:35. The Kernels announced a roster move before Thursday night's game, with outfielder Drew Leachman being promoted to high-Class A Fort Myers and pitcher Matt Tomshaw activated off the disabled list.

Leachman hit .346 in six games for Cedar Rapids, spending a week-plus on the DL himself with a shoulder injury. Tomshaw threw the final 1 2/3 innings of Thursday's game.

The Kernels' roster is at 24 players, one under limit.

"We're going to talk about that," Steil said, when asked if Cedar Rapids would be receiving another player shortly.

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