COMMENTARY | For six weeks last season, Trevor Plouffe put on an offensive show that was one of the few highlights of the 2012 season outside of Josh Willingham. Since then, he's been trying to live up to that explosion and his quieter contributions in 2013 have been undervalued.
However, his importance to the success of the Twins was on display when Plouffe went on the disabled list for three weeks.
On May 16, 2012, Plouffe hit just his second home run of the 6-week-old season. That was his first of three homers in four days that started his barrage of power. Over the next 52 games, Plouffe batted .296/.344/.618 with 18 home runs and the Twins, who ended the season with 96 losses, went 27-25 in that stretch.
However, Plouffe missed the next 21 days after jamming his thumb and just wasn't the same batter when he returned. In his first 21 games back from the injury, Plouffe batted .147/.207/.200.
Plouffe told the Pioneer Press that the thumb wasn't fully healed and wouldn't be until he could rest it in the offseason, so his dropoff could at least be partially attributed to this thumb still bothering him. In his final 24 games of 2012, Plouffe batted .239/.295/ .466, which mirrored his final 2012 slash line of .235/.301/.455, which was slightly above average for American League batters.
Trevor Plouffe Has Been Minnesota Twins' Second-Best Hitter
In 2013, Plouffe hasn't had the explosion of power he had in 2012, but he is batting .270/.350/.467 through Saturday, May 15, and has quietly been the Twins' second-best hitter behind Joe Mauer. Plouffe came off the disabled list for Saturday's game against the Detroit Tigers and went 3-for-3 with a home run, a double, a walk, and three RBIs. He might have had another double, but he hit the ball so hard off the wall in left-center field, that he was thrown out at second base.
This was a welcome sight for the Twins. During Plouffe's absence, the Twins scored just 3.5 runs per game. His replacements at third base, Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar, struggled mightily during this time as well.
Carroll batted .136/.208/.152 while Plouffe was on the disabled list. Escobar batted .167/.255/.208. Their struggles were compounded by the fact that manager Ron Gardenhire continued to use whoever was playing third base as the leadoff hitter. Since these are the Twins and not the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers, the Twins couldn't just go out and buy a short-term replacement for Plouffe, so they had to play who they had available.
Even though the Twins' second-best hitter was coming back to replace a black hole in the lineup, there was very little anticipation for Plouffe's return. In fact, Twins general manager Terry Ryan talked to the "Pioneer Press" about Plouffe being inconsistent.
"We know he can hit the ball a long way, and he did that for six weeks last year. Can he do it over the course over six months?" Ryan said before Saturday's game. "There's been a lot (of) inconsistencies. Now he's healthy. We need to move on. But it would sure be nice for a couple straight months so we know what we're dealing with."
Reading between the lines, it seems like Ryan is wondering about Plouffe's ability to stay healthy. However, his three most recent DL trips were for three unrelated injuries: jammed thumb, concussion, and strained quad muscle. It's difficult to see any problem there other than bad luck, unless the Twins are questioning his concussion symptoms or his pain threshold with the quad strain.
I hope this is not the case. Questioning a player's injury without any real proof can only lead to bad things.
Trevor Plouffe's Defense Needs to Show More Improvement
The other possible area of Plouffe's game Ryan might want to see more consistency is on defense. Plouffe took over third base last year right about the time he went on his power binge. He had been a shortstop in prior years and was used as a utility player in 2012 before taking over for Danny Valencia at third base, so Plouffe has less than a year of experience at third base (132 games in the major leagues).
The defensive numbers have not been kind for Plouffe so far. The major defensive metrics all rate Plouffe as well below average at third base. He has improved his fielding percentage in 2013, but he still needs to work a lot to get his defense up to acceptable. At this point, Gardenhire should really consider using a defensive replacement for Plouffe late in games.
Plouffe might not be at third base for long anyways. Stud third base prospect Miguel Sano is in Class AA New Britain and could be with the Twins sometime in 2014. The one thing that has kept Sano from coming up sooner was his defense. Reports have been better of late and his midseason promotion to AA is a good sign, but it remains to be seen if Sano will stick at third base or is asked to go to first base.
If there isn't much difference defensively, the Twins will most likely keep Sano at third. If Plouffe continues to hit as well as he has in 2013, the Twins will find a spot for him somewhere. At the very least, Plouffe would make a good bench player that could give a left-handed corner outfielder, first baseman or designated hitter a day off against a left-handed starting pitcher.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
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