"You want to work on your weaknesses, but you can't forget to work on your strengths."
Wise words from Trevor Plouffe, and ones that can be forgotten amidst all the spring talk of ironing out wrinkles and fixing flaws.
Plouffe knows the weaknesses that he needs to work on, but he's not forgetting about the strengths that have made him the Twins' principal third baseman for two years running. And the greatest of those strengths is… well, strength.
He's a well-built specimen at 6'2" with muscular arms that become much more noticeable when he's standing by the batting practice shell in a spandex shirt.
His cannon arm kept him at shortstop throughout the minors and is the main reason the Twins still believe in him at third base despite frequent frustrations with his reactions and footwork.
His powerful bat famously helped him produce 18 homers over a 39-game stretch in the summer of 2012.
That's a strength that the Twins would really like to see shine through this year, because there are serious questions about where the right-handed power in this lineup is going to come from.
Josh Willingham is trying to bounce back from a tough knee injury at age 35, and I've heard multiple people down here comment that he's really looking his age. Aaron Hicks and Josmil Pinto have the potential to provide punch from the right side, but both are mostly unproven.
It's Plouffe that looks to be the most reliable source of righty power. But how to recapture the magic that led to that crazy homer binge two years ago?
"I just think that sometimes you go through streaks like that," he says. "Obviously everyone would like to prolong those and get in those as much as possible."
"But the big thing for me is just pitch recognition, getting the pitch in my zone. That's something that comes with a good base and a good foundation so that's what we're working on here, getting myself in a good position to see the ball and be able to turn on the ball and also take it the other way."
Of course, it's going to help if he can improve his overall game, so that's also been a focus for the 27-year-old. He's excited to have Paul Molitor added to the coaching staff and says he's making the most of that opportunity.
"Coming in this spring I knew I needed to get in here and work with Molitor, because he's a guy that you can pick his brain and learn a lot of different things."
Plouffe has been attacking some particular areas of his fielding game and feels good about where he's at.
"Specifically I guess just angles at third base, pre-pitch setup that gets you in a good position to move. I think I've made some big strides there."
The Twins are hoping so, because their best fallback plan at the hot corner is no longer in the mix. Miguel Sano is gone all year, and his presence in the stands on a minor-league field the other day with a giant cast on his right arm
served as a sobering reminder of that.
Does the delayed arrival of the elite power-hitting prospect, whose immense strength overshadows even Plouffe's, serve to relieve some pressure for the incumbent? He says no.
"I don't think there was ever really any pressure," Plouffe opines. "I'm going to prepare the same way. I'm not wanting him to be injured, I'm wanting him to do well and come help our team out."
That's not going to happen this year anymore, so it falls on Plouffe to hold down the position, and to infuse this shaky lineup with some badly needed pop.
So far this spring, he's hitting just .229/.325/.257, but he's also an example of how the statistics down here can be deceiving. I've seen him hit into several unlucky outs in the games I've watched, including Thursday night when two well struck liners to straightaway center ended up in the fielder's mitt.
On the bright side, he has drawn five walks in 40 plate appearances, suggesting some improvement in another area of weakness. Last year Plouffe walked only 34 times in 522 trips for a 6.5 percent rate that was nearly identical to, for example, notorious hacker Carlos Gomez.
Improved patience will certainly help Plouffe round out his offensive game and get him back to seeing the pitches that he can drive over the wall, allowing his greatest strength to carry him once again.