Can Plouffe get back in the swing?
FEB 01, 2013 4:00a ET
There was the Plouffe who, for a stretch during the first half of the season, was the hottest hitter in baseball. It seemed as if every time he stepped to the plate from mid-May to mid-June, he was destined to hit a home run. In fact, he hit 13 homers and drove in 21 runs in 22 games, including five homers in a span of four games, during that stretch.
Then there was the Plouffe who was hampered by a thumb injury and landed on the disabled list. That Plouffe, the one with the bruised right thumb, hit just .196 with five homers over the final two months of the season after returning from the DL.
So, which Plouffe will show up at spring training when the Twins report to Fort Myers two weeks from now?
"The question with Plouffe is whether you're buying into what he looked like in the first half or the second half," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "He had a good first half, and then he hurt that thumb and he did not respond. I think I've always got the optimistic look that we know what he looked like in that first half and that was pretty good and we've got something to build on. But it'll also be interesting to see how he responds."
This spring is an important one for many Twins players, and that includes Plouffe. He not only needs to show he can produce at the plate like he did during the first half of the season before his injury, but he also must prove he belongs defensively at third base. Last spring, Plouffe was anticipating a transition from shortstop to the outfield. To prepare for that move, he added muscle in the winter to better fit the mold of an outfielder.
But his stint as the Twins' right fielder didn't last long. By the end of May, he was regularly playing third base for Minnesota. That's where he's expected to play again this season, which means Plouffe can head to camp with the peace of mind that he won't be moving positions again. He spent his winter working out at Pepperdine University, focusing on adding quickness to his game to help prepare him for a full season in the infield.
"Last year, I was coming in as an outfielder, so this offseason I kind of got to focus on my defense a little more and I'll be more prepared to come into spring and work on some things," Plouffe said. "It's nice to know that's where I'm going to be."
Shoring up his defense at third will be essential for Plouffe, who committed 17 errors in 95 games at the position. In 2011, he committed 11 errors in 45 games at shortstop.
Minnesota enters spring training with questions at the middle infield positions, but the Twins are hoping they have their answer at third base with Plouffe.
"I'm just excited to see him get back down there knowing where he's going to play," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You're going to play third base, son, and let's see what he does. That's on his shoulders. That's not on anybody else's shoulders. We're going to put him at third base and see what he does. It's his to take and run with it, and I hope he really does. We really need him to take it and run with it.
But what's a realistic expectation for Plouffe offensively? He finished last season with 24 home runs, his highest single-season total in professional baseball.
It's not realistic to think that Plouffe will go on the same kind of tear he went on early in the 2012, but can he routinely be a 20-home run, 80-RBI player at the major league level?
"I can't even think about that," Plouffe said of expectations. "Last year . . . those thoughts enter your head and it's just not good. Talking to ( Justin) Morneau, ( Josh) Willingham, guys that have put up numbers like that, their whole thing is you just try to win the game. You go out and work hard to win the game and the numbers will be there at the end of the season. If you go out there and you're consistently trying to put up good at-bats, they'll be there. That's something that I really try to focus on, just going out there and putting up quality at-bats."
Ryan noted that the Twins have other third base options to push Plouffe in camp, mentioning the name of Mark Sobolewski, acquired from Toronto in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 draft in December. Minnesota's GM also said it will be a "competition" this spring at third base.
If the Plouffe of the first half of the 2012 season shows up to camp, there's no reason he shouldn't emerge once again as the Twins' starting third baseman.
"The opportunity is there for him to take that job if he does so," Ryan said. "I'm waiting to see exactly what he does. There isn't any reason with his skill set that he shouldn't be able to handle that."
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