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  • For Better or Worse: Trevor Plouffe

    Stability at third base and right-handed power have both been in short supply for the Twins over the past decade or so. Trevor Plouffe has developed into one of the team’s most interesting commodities because he has the potential to fill both needs, and could do so at a relatively low cost for the next several years.

    As a homegrown talent, Plouffe is precisely the type of player the Twins want to structure their rebuild around, but clearly they still hold reservations about him. Inconsistency and defensive question marks have plagued him throughout his career and continue to keep decision-makers on the fence about his value going forward. He’s 26 and entering his first season with a full-time MLB job secured, so this campaign will be critical toward determining his future with the team.

    2012 Recap
    To call Plouffe’s midseason tear a “hot streak” seems to undersell it. For an extended period of time last year, he was a scorching inferno, incinerating everything he came into contact with. I mean, seriously, 18 homers in 39 games? A .638 slugging percentage over a two-month stretch? That’s silly. Those numbers aren’t possible for a player that doesn’t possess some serious talent.

    Of course, Plouffe’s ability has never really been in question. There’s a reason the Twins drafted him in the first round and moved him steadily through their system despite relatively modest numbers in the lower levels. With his size, his strength and his quick wrists, Plouffe has always displayed above-average pop for a middle infielder.

    Through his first 222 major-league games, the downside is that he’s been nudged out of the middle infield, but the upside is that his power may be on a higher plane than simply “above-average.”

    At one point last year Plouffe was on pace to finish with 40 home runs, and while the late-season swoon that caused him to finish with 24 could be viewed as an inevitable regression to the mean, there was also a debilitating thumb injury in play. It sidelined him for a few weeks and undoubtedly affected him down the stretch.

    Why He’ll Be Worse
    The big question is to what degree Plouffe’s thumb injury derailed his performance. Quite possibly it was a minor factor, and the larger problem was that pitchers adjusted and started attacking him in ways he couldn’t adapt to.

    In both the minors and majors, the infielder has historically had problems controlling the strike zone. In his first MLB stint back in 2010, he struck out 14 times and drew zero walks in 44 plate appearances, batting .146. His K/BB rates have improved in two seasons since, but last year’s 97/35 mark was still ugly and contributed heavily to a .235 batting average.

    Plouffe can send the ball a mile when he connects, but his long swing has holes, and no one can exploit those holes like major-league pitchers. If hurlers continue to stay one step ahead of him, as they have been for the majority of his big-league career outside of a few windows, his batting average and OBP will continue to falter and he’ll struggle to coax mistake pitches that end up in the seats.

    His defense is obviously another concern. Although he showed some impressive skills at the hot corner last year, you get the sense that the Twins weren’t especially happy with his glovework overall. If he doesn’t make the necessary improvements they might simply give up on the idea of him as a regular infielder.

    Moving to the outfield or DH would ding his value, particularly in light of this organization’s drastic need for productive infield bats.

    Why He’ll Be Better
    Skeptics have suggested that Plouffe’s superhuman stretch last year was a fluke, pointing out that there was no precedent for that type of outburst in his track record.

    This may be true to some extent, but it’s worth noting that Plouffe had a similar run at Triple-A in 2011, where he hit went deep 15 times in 51 games with a .635 slugging percentage. In his first six pro seasons Plouffe never topped 13 bombs but in the past three years between Triple-A and the majors he has hit 17, 23 and 24 homers. At the beginnings of those seasons he was 23, 24 and 25 years old.

    To me, he profiles very much as a guy coming into his own as he approaches his physical prime and adjusts to the competition at the highest levels. It would be much easier to label last year’s breakout an outlier if it weren't preceded by several seasons of steady improvement. The careers of most ballplayers follow a bell curve and it’s quite possible that Plouffe has not yet reached his precipice.

    Conclusion
    Over the past two seasons, Plouffe has hit more home runs than any Twin not named Josh Willingham, and he’s accomplished that despite playing only 200 total games and being one of the youngest players on the roster. If he can stay healthy and continue his trend of improvement this year, there’s little reason to believe he won’t top 30 homers and become a tremendous asset in a lineup core that has a chance to be quite potent.
    This article was originally published in blog: For Better or Worse: Trevor Plouffe started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 38 Comments
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Quote Originally Posted by pitchtocontact View Post
      I think the team's decision to bring in Bruno as a hitting coach could be of great benefit to Plouffe. Seems like the guy can bring the best out of young power guys (see Parmelee).
      I forgot, Bruno is coming in as hitting coach. Yeah, I agree that he's been very, very good for Parmelee, and I think he can do the same for Plouffe and maybe even Florimon. Twins need a hitting coach that's not afraid to let 'em bash the ball when the time is right.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsnorth49 View Post
      If he can learn to control the strike zone and lay off some bad pitches there is no doubt he will be better. The bat speed and power are there, no debating that, if pitchers make mistakes he'll punish them.
      This is the key. It's not like he suddenly "developed" power, the power was there, he just seemed (for a brief glorious time) to be able to lay off the pitcher's pitch and get one to his liking. And then it went away - due to the wrist, due to "the book" on him getting updated, I don't know, but if it's the latter then he and Brunansky have some work to do this spring. I also liked the comment about him and Mauer having a heart-to-heart, in the same spirit of *recognizing* and laying off the pitch you don't want, and turning on the pitch you do.Since baseball's a game of constant adjustments, I am cautiously optimistic.
    1. tjsyam921's Avatar
      tjsyam921 -
      Quote Originally Posted by pitchtocontact View Post
      I think the team's decision to bring in Bruno as a hitting coach could be of great benefit to Plouffe. Seems like the guy can bring the best out of young power guys (see Parmelee).
      I totally agree and hope this is the case.
    1. rukavina's Avatar
      rukavina -
      Feel like the Twins didn't like his work ethic on defense, hence the need to bring in competition. They seem to be telling him third is his if we works at it.
    1. SpiritofVodkaDave's Avatar
      SpiritofVodkaDave -
      Personally I'd still like to see if he could handle 2B. He played decently enough at SS in the minors where he stuck for that long. I think he has the potential to at least be league average at 3B, but if he could at least play an average 2B defensively....you could be looking at a true asset at the position if he continues to mash a bit.

      Not that it matters a whole lot now anyways, the Twins legit depth at 3B/SS/2B in the minors is utterly terrible overall considering the top two prospects at those positions Sano/Rosario each have at best a 50% chance of sticking at those said positions.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by SpiritofVodkaDave View Post
      Personally I'd still like to see if he could handle 2B. He played decently enough at SS in the minors where he stuck for that long. I think he has the potential to at least be league average at 3B, but if he could at least play an average 2B defensively....you could be looking at a true asset at the position if he continues to mash a bit.

      Not that it matters a whole lot now anyways, the Twins legit depth at 3B/SS/2B in the minors is utterly terrible overall considering the top two prospects at those positions Sano/Rosario each have at best a 50% chance of sticking at those said positions.
      Plouffie's worth a try there, but that would require filling the vacated hole and getting Inge, Kennedy or Bartlett to play 3B, so what would be the net gain? OTOH, this scenario would be the perfect way to try Mauer out at 3B, platooning with an Escobar or Dozier to still give Mauer his 70 games or so behind the plate.

      Regardless, Plouffe appeared to break out at the plate and lose his "happy feet" in the field when he got settled in at Third pre-injury.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Better on defense, more consistent across the year on offense, with a bit better output on offense.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      First of all, it was a thumb injury (to a nerve to be specific). Second, it was almost a month that was lost. And third, his defensive woes in the field were due to throwing from SS more than anything. At third he was actually pretty good. He had a few stretches of incompetence, but he passes the eye test from my perspective. Plus, if he can hit who cares if he is below average defensively? Another little fact about 2012 is he was extremely unlucky with BA, he had a nice line-drive rate, and his FB to HR ratio was pretty high. I expect .250 avg with 25-30 HR's.
    1. Joe A. Preusser's Avatar
      Joe A. Preusser -
      Quote Originally Posted by fairweather View Post
      Plouffe is a low average power hitter. He reminds me of Joe Crede in that way. I have no doubt that he's going to improve offensively this coming season but the guy should not be allowed to play the infield. I think he'll end up in RF like Cuddyer before him. Parmalee will end up at 1st after Morneau is traded mid season. The only way Morneau isn't traded is if the Twins are still in it at the All-Star break. LOL We all know that isn't going to be the case. Pelfrey and Correia do not make this rotation better but they make it older and worse. Both are right handed sinker ballers. Shall we revisit Rick Anderson track record with right handed sinker ball pitchers? I won't because you already know that they will be worse than they've ever been in their respective careers. Vavra and Anderson need to go like 5 years ago!
      My best guess is .260, 25 HR, 80 RBI, .750 OPS. This coupled with average defense will give us our best 3rd baseman since Koskie. I haven't seen anything to tell me that he can't be that solid, average 3rd baseman we need, so pushing him into the outfield where we are already very full seems premature. As for Morneau, I am surprised how few people think we have a shot to resign him. He clearly loves playing with Mauer, and if he comes all the way around the concussion corner, why not offer him something in the neighborhood of 27/3? I won't argue about the pitching, but I will say I'm willing to see how it all plays out with our young guys by the end of the year.
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      In 2012, Upton's timing was off for much of the year, and he was popping up a lot of pitches on the inner half that the year before he would have driven to the left-center gap or out of the park. Much of this probably was tied to a thumb injury he suffered in the third game of the season but never addressed with time off. Hand injuries of any sort tend to sap power by reducing a hitter's ability to make hard contact, and that was a major issue for Upton all year.
      Pulled this out of Keith Law's writeup on Justin Upton (Breaking down the Justin Upton trade from Diamondbacks to the Braves -- MLB - ESPN, it's behind the paywall), and thought it was interesting context for Plouffe. It makes me a little more confident we should see more of the "good Trevor" this year.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      I'm hopeful too. Anyone who's struck a fastball on the trademark can imagine how a thumb injury would put a damper on your swing. As long as he's healed...
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by ericchri View Post
      Pulled this out of Keith Law's writeup on Justin Upton (Breaking down the Justin Upton trade from Diamondbacks to the Braves -- MLB - ESPN, it's behind the paywall), and thought it was interesting context for Plouffe. It makes me a little more confident we should see more of the "good Trevor" this year.
      Can't read the link...not an insider
    1. DelawareTwinsFan's Avatar
      DelawareTwinsFan -
      I see him as Joe Crede numbers, lots of homeruns but .250-260 BA. More important is him to learn to field the hot corner like Crede.
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      Can't read the link...not an insider
      Sorry, I tried to note that was the case, and really the part I quoted was the only relevant stuff anyway, regarding how thumb/hand injuries affect hitters. Just trying to be polite and include link to source material, even though the relevant stuff was already noted.
    1. DelawareTwinsFan's Avatar
      DelawareTwinsFan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      First of all, it was a thumb injury (to a nerve to be specific). Second, it was almost a month that was lost. And third, his defensive woes in the field were due to throwing from SS more than anything. At third he was actually pretty good. He had a few stretches of incompetence, but he passes the eye test from my perspective. Plus, if he can hit who cares if he is below average defensively? Another little fact about 2012 is he was extremely unlucky with BA, he had a nice line-drive rate, and his FB to HR ratio was pretty high. I expect .250 avg with 25-30 HR's.
      His range was a problem last year. He solve his throwing woes which seemed isolated to playing SS. The more he plays at third, the more he'll learn to anticipate where the ball will end up. He's got good reaction time, just not very comfortable yet. I'm confident he will learn to play the position. He's an excellent athlete, moves well defensively, better than Valencia in my opinion.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      I'm hopeful too. Anyone who's struck a fastball on the trademark can imagine how a thumb injury would put a damper on your swing. As long as he's healed...
      In my baseball career I could have lacked opposable thumbs and it wouldn't have made any difference.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by ericchri View Post
      Sorry, I tried to note that was the case, and really the part I quoted was the only relevant stuff anyway, regarding how thumb/hand injuries affect hitters. Just trying to be polite and include link to source material, even though the relevant stuff was already noted.
      I wasn't complaining, just saying I couldn't read it. For those who could, awesome :-)
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Quote Originally Posted by DelawareTwinsFan View Post
      His range was a problem last year. He solve his throwing woes which seemed isolated to playing SS. The more he plays at third, the more he'll learn to anticipate where the ball will end up. He's got good reaction time, just not very comfortable yet. I'm confident he will learn to play the position. He's an excellent athlete, moves well defensively, better than Valencia in my opinion.
      Range is meh for a 3b. His range was affected by not making some plays he had to move for, which I think will be improved on. He also made some outstandingly rangy plays last season going to all directions. His consistancy is the key, which has been beaten to a pulp in this thread already. At the least, I think the Twins have a guy who will help the team more than hurt them and allow them to focus on other positions going forward. This is the least, at the best he could be an all-star. Normal guys don't just go on tears and hit homeruns like that. I'm hoping for the best.
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