Likely Starter: Trevor Plouffe
2012 Stats: .235/.301/.455, 24 HR, 55 RBI, 56 R
Potential Backups: Eduardo Escobar, Jamie Carroll
Identifying a solution at the hot corner has turned into a game of hot potato for the Twins. Since Corey Koskie’s departure, the list of players who have had a hand on the gig is lengthy: Tony Batista, Mike Lamb, Joe Crede, Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris, Danny Valencia and more. Unfortunately, in each case, the assignment has proven too hot to handle.
Trevor Plouffe is the latest in this long line of contenders and represents the best hope for a long-term solution in the group. His bat, slow to develop in the early minors, has game has elevated dramatically over the past three years. As a 26-year-old on the rise and entering his prime, Plouffe is an intriguing commodity with offensive upside left in the tank even after erupting for 24 homers last year.
Of course, hitting isn’t the make-or-break factor for Plouffe at this point. He needs to prove to the Twins that he can consistently make all the plays at third and remain in the infield after fizzling out at shortstop with a poor showing in 2011. Plouffe has all the tools to be an above-average third baseman, with a strong arm and good lateral reflexes, but his mechanics and his focus have sometimes come into question.
Without a doubt, his fielding will be under heavy scrutiny from the coaching staff. To his benefit, Plouffe has now had an entire offseason to concentrate on preparing for one specific position, whereas the last few years have seen him slide all over the diamond. Hopefully this, along with the security of a guaranteed regular job, will help him take the steps needed to satisfy the defensive expectations that come along with manning third.
Plouffe has already met the offensive expectations, even in a 2012 season that had its ups and downs. He started the year as a part-time infielder, scuffling at the plate with sporadic playing time, but eventually Danny Valencia’s departure created an opening at third and Plouffe settled in. He went on an insane midseason tear, piling up 18 homers in 39 games before a thumb injury cut down his playing time and production in the second half.
Plouffe’s power surge was abrupt, but the concentrated distribution of his home runs does not diminish the accomplishment of launching 24 of them in 119 games as a 25-year-old with little major-league experience. And while it may have seemed this way to some, Plouffe’s long-ball proclivity didn’t come out of nowhere. Between Triple-A and the majors, he had gone deep 17 times in 2010 and 23 times in 2011. As he has matured and grown and adjusted, he has developed into a legitimate power hitter. As long as he can stay off the trainer's table, there is no reason to expect that to change this year.
Clearly, Plouffe needs to put his health issues behind him. The thumb problem nagged him throughout the final months last year and he has already dealt with a recurring calf injury this spring. But if he can get past these afflictions, I have high hopes. My expectation is that he will hit at least 25 home runs, perhaps 30 or more, and that as he gets more comfortable at third base his skills – which enabled him to stick at shortstop throughout the minors – will start to shine through and he’ll become a quality defender there.
Hopefully my optimism isn’t misplaced, because if Plouffe doesn’t work out there isn’t a whole lot to fall back on. If he does, the middle of this lineup could be truly formidable.