December 20, 2012

Offseason outlook: Trevor Plouffe

Trevor Plouffe's quasi-breakout season can be separated into four distinct parts. First he made the Twins out of spring training as a bench player and was used sparingly, starting 13 of the first 30 games while hitting .140. Then he became the starting third baseman when Danny Valencia was demoted to Triple-A and went on an amazing power binge, at one point going deep 13 times in 22 games and slugging .582 over a 57-game stretch.

Plouffe injured his finger on July 20, was "day-to-day" for more than a week, finally went on the disabled list for what turned out to be a total of three weeks, and hit .147 with one homer in his first 21 games back. And then, as many people started to wonder if Plouffe's two-month power display was a fluke, he finished the season by smacking four homers and 11 total extra-base hits in his final 24 games for a lofty .227 Isolated Power.

So, to recap: Plouffe was barely used and incredibly unproductive early, became one of MLB's best hitters for two months, injured his finger and struggled upon returning, and then quietly had a solid last few weeks. Overall he hit .235/.301/.455 in 119 games, mixing tremendous power with a low batting average and poor strike zone control. He also looked very much like someone with limited experience at third base, often struggling to make routine plays.

In fact, at this point the question is basically whether Plouffe's power potential is enough to cancel out the many flaws in his all-around game. He's already 26 years old and Plouffe's track record includes a .261 batting average and .315 on-base percentage in 339 games at Triple-A, plus a .231 batting average and .295 on-base percentage in 222 games for the Twins. Those are not numbers that fit particularly well in a corner spot, especially from a non-elite defender.

With that said, Plouffe's power potential is legitimately outstanding. Even with his horrendous start and post-injury struggles included in the overall numbers Plouffe had the 16th-highest Isolated Power in the AL and joined Kirby Puckett in 1994 and Harmon Killebrew in 1965 as the only right-handed hitters in Twins history with 20-plus homers in fewer than 500 plate appearances. And his similar power binge at Triple-A in 2011 suggests it wasn't just a fluke.

Given the Twins' longstanding inability to develop power hitters and their need for right-handed pop in a lineup that's been lefty dominant for more than a decade now living with Plouffe's flaws seems palatable if he can go deep 30 times. Whether he can do that still remains to be seen, of course, but the days of Plouffe being a light-hitting shortstop prospect are long gone and it's not as if the Twins have a ton of other options.

Late in the season general manager Terry Ryan talked about needing to see more from Plouffe, especially defensively, before viewing him as the long-term answer at third base. It's tough to disagree with Ryan's stance, but the Twins lack other in-house options to fill the position, don't have any good third base prospects near the majors, and the only third basemen they've been linked to this offseason have been utility-man types.

If he's capable of 25 homers per season then Plouffe only needs to hit .250 and play something resembling passable defense at third base to offer a flawed all-around package that would be plenty valuable from someone making the minimum salary for a couple more seasons. There's no reason to lock him into the job long term and there are lots of reasons to remain skeptical, but the Twins need to find out if Plouffe is for real in 2013.

Other "offseason outlook" write-ups: Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham, Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit

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  1. brandan inge is available. old, but still plays solid defense. late-inning replacement for plouffe? thoughts?

    Comment by jfs — December 19, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

  2. I don’t get why they want to bring in competition for Plouffe.
    The Twins aren’t winning 70 games this year. Throw him out there for 600 at bats and a 140+ games at 3B and let that decide if he is a player or not. If his defense continues to suck and he can’t hit, what have they lost?!?!? Another couple games?!?!? Big deal.

    Comment by ds — December 20, 2012 @ 6:51 am

  3. I think it is quite possible that the Twins under value Plouffe because he doesn’t have a nice looking batting average and had a very low RBI total. Let’s be honest, those are the stats they focus on.

    Also, he can hardly be blamed for having a bad year in the field. He was learning a new position at the major league level, not to mention his finger injury. He also had more balls hit to him than any other 3rd basemen in the American league.

    Comment by Spoofbonser — December 20, 2012 @ 8:40 am

  4. Super bad idea not to play him every day. They need to find out if he can be the answer.

    Comment by mike wants wins — December 20, 2012 @ 8:47 am

  5. The reason I have a bit of confidence in his ability is his streak wasn’t based on a fulky BABIP or something that could be attributed to luck. You can’t luck your way into 13 HRs in 22 games. Whether or not he can actually figure out how to sustain excellent power is one thing, but it’s clear that it’s a real possibilty.

    Comment by Jeff K — December 20, 2012 @ 9:49 am

  6. For the Twins to be even quasi-respectable, a lot of players with questionable pasts will have to experience a lot of improvement. How many of those are currently on the roster? How many on the roster–or close to it–with anywhere near the potential upside of Plouffe? You move him to a new position, never let him forget you’re impatient with his development to date, and then add for good measure he needs some competition. Even by the Twins’ standard, that’s pretty stupid.

    Comment by Dave Andrusko — December 20, 2012 @ 11:21 am

  7. I think there are several good reasons to bring in a little competition for Plouffe: 1) insurance against his power numbers not being sustainable 2) getting a potential defensive replacement if he doesn’t improve to consistently adequate 3) have a quality backup in case of injury again

    I do think Plouffe can be a quality player for the Twins. His lack of strike zone control is the biggest concern because it will reduce his ability to hit HRs if enough pitchers can just get him chasing all the time. That said, 30-hr RH power is a nice addition to this lineup and with just a decent improvement in controlling the strike zone he could be a fearful hitter in the 6th spot (which seems his most likely home, behind Morneau)

    The lineup is pretty nice in the heart of the order: Mauer, Willingham, Morneau, Plouffe, Parmelee, Doumit could be a grind for pitchers to get through. Unfortunately, we could be looking at a struggle in 1-2 & 9 slots. Carroll would be a solid #2 hitter with his ability to work counts, draw walks, etc but you like for someone to step up at SS or 2B so he could play his best spot: utility man. I don’t know who leads off and there are definitely more contenders to hit 9th than 1st right now.

    Comment by Josh — December 20, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

  8. And who exactly is the competition for those middle infield positions?

    I agree, let him play.

    Comment by ML — December 20, 2012 @ 6:51 pm

  9. Best case scenario the Rangers are desperate for a left-handed hitter with some power and overpay the Twins in a trade with a young shortstop as part of the exchange. This opens up 1B for Parmelee and RF for Plouffe. Or the Twins move Willingham for value and Trevor moves back a few dozen yards in left.

    Either way is okay because he’s not going to improve enough to hold down a position in the infield on a championship caliber club, but what’s for sure is that the power he showed is not an accident. Play everyday and hit 30+ and hurt not the team too much in the field and we’ve got something.

    OTOH, that doesn’t fix 3B for the Twins infield. Sobolewski, anyone?

    Comment by Snortwood — December 21, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

  10. Who we crapping here? We all know Gardy wants to see this kid fail so that he can put a scrapper over there.

    Comment by Larence — January 4, 2013 @ 9:13 am

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