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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 -
      I sure hope Trevor Plouffe hasn't reached his precipice, because that denotes a Nishioka death spiral into the canyon of failure and despair, and a possible airplane ride to Japan. Instead, I hope Plouffe is reaching the apex, the tip top of a large, massive mesa of a 40-plus home run career stretch.

      In fact, I predict he will start swinging the bat just the way he did during his amazing 2012 hot streak. What's to stop him? If his hand is fully healed, then it's just a matter of remembering what he was doing, which is certainly on video. He studies the video, talks it over with the hitting coach, gets the feel of that swing back, and get ready to blast some baseballs.

      Of all the many 'ifs' this coming season, Plouffe getting his swing back is one thing I'm pretty sure will happen. The guy can pulverize baseballs. Pitchers beware.
    1. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      Guy has got to be better. He's had the entire year and offseason to work on one defensive position now (so the defensive must get better), and as long as the thumb is healed, I think he can OPS ~.775 just by bring is BA up to .250-.260, which is where I think he'll be while hitting fewer HRs.
    1. lee_the_twins_fan's Avatar
      lee_the_twins_fan -
      He'd better hit better, because his defense was not good last year. I don't like the inconsistency – hot and cold. Many players cool off, or get lukewarm, but Plouffe it seems is either turning water into a gaseous state, or he's freezing methane. Consistency, consistency, consistency.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      I'll put him down for better. Steadier on defense, more consistent on offense. Not an all-star, but solid. Let's hope.
    1. minn55441's Avatar
      minn55441 -
      Nice write up Nick. I have always been a big Plouffe guy, but he has disappointed me every time. Was last years outburst just a mirage? I think so, put me down for a worse and hope that I am wrong.
    1. mako83's Avatar
      mako83 -
      He and mauer should have a heart to heart about the importance of OBP.
    1. pitchtocontact's Avatar
      pitchtocontact -
      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).
    1. Jeremy Nygaard's Avatar
      Jeremy Nygaard -
      Using the "Ponder got better after he got married rule", plus knowing that CP and TP are friends, I'm saying Plouffe will be better since he just got married.
    1. josecordoba's Avatar
      josecordoba -
      I would define a league average 3B as between 2 to 3 WAR. If Plouffe puts up his projected numbers according to Fangraphs and Bill James he falls on the short end of the stick. Although according to Fangraphs he's projected as a 1.9. I think it's somewhat possible he outperforms these numbers especially since he had a .600 Plus slugging percentage at Triple A in 2011. I can't comment on how much his wrist effected him but he has developed big time power.

      I also hold out hope as a fielder considering his background. I never expect him to be good but at least playable at third base.

      I figure Plouffe's long-term projection is league average starter (2-3 WAR). The Twins should be happy with this.
    1. Blackjack's Avatar
      Blackjack -
      What I don't understand is why did it take so long for them to move him to third base?? He failed miserably at shortstop once he got to the majors, why didn't they see that sooner??!!! More games at third in the minors would probably make him a better defender now.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Blackjack View Post
      What I don't understand is why did it take so long for them to move him to third base?? He failed miserably at shortstop once he got to the majors, why didn't they see that sooner??!!! More games at third in the minors would probably make him a better defender now.
      Because the Twins are so woefully short on middle infielders at every level. You have to see if the guy can stick at a middle infield spot (though I agree that they took too long to reach the conclusion that he cannot play short).
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      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. I think he'll be serviceable at third, he made some fine plays last year, just need him to be consistent and make the routine ones.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Blackjack View Post
      What I don't understand is why did it take so long for them to move him to third base?? He failed miserably at shortstop once he got to the majors, why didn't they see that sooner??!!! More games at third in the minors would probably make him a better defender now.
      He's only had like 50 something starts at shortstop in the majors...how much sooner do you think they should have seen it? I think they just hoped it'd click once he came up, cause it's not like he was very good at shortstop in the minors either.
    1. Game163's Avatar
      Game163 -
      I want the Plouffe!
      YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE PLOUFFE!
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      Great analysis Nick, thanks!

      I have my fingers crossed that he will be better. I expect we will see a performance not as good as he was during those two months, but better overall during the season with another 25 or so home runs and a higher average. If Plouffe can do that, one of the young outfielders steps up by early June and a few of the many starters vying for the rotation pitch relatively well, this team can be competitive.
    1. Blackjack's Avatar
      Blackjack -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      it's not like he was very good at shortstop in the minors either.
      I rest my case.

      Play him for years in the minors at SS, find out he can't throw, then move him to third in the majors, so he has to learn at the highest level. Head shaking...

      Hopefully he can just show some consistency with both the bat and the glove, make the plays he should make, and hit 20+ home runs.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Blackjack View Post
      I rest my case.

      Play him for years in the minors at SS, find out he can't throw, then move him to third in the majors, so he has to learn at the highest level. Head shaking...

      Hopefully he can just show some consistency with both the bat and the glove, make the plays he should make, and hit 20+ home runs.
      They didn't want to throw away a former #1 pick...he was out of options...they needed to find a spot for him
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      I'd hope that he could be better. His overall numbers weren't exactly mind blowing. You can argue that his first month or so of the season struggles were due to inconsistent PT... and the last 2 months due to that injury... Here's to hoping that's the case. Not sure he'd do a .638 SLG over the course of the season, but if he could get the average up to .270 while hitting 30 or so home runs, he'd be quite the asset...
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      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!
    1. LewFordLives's Avatar
      LewFordLives -
      Put me down for "better". I can live with the inconsistency at the plate if he just improves his defense. The left side of the infield was once again a complete mess in 2012. However, I do believe experience really counts when it comes to defense, which is why I think he'll be better in 2013. He reminds me in some ways of Cuddyer. Is/was very inconsistent at the plate but seemed to settle down once he found a permanent position in the field.
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