Take a look at that picture: Trevor Plouffe, left, celebrating with Luke Hughes after Plouffe's winning hit in a game late last season.
In 2011, they were essentially the same guy: Both had a little more than 300 plate appearances for an awful team, and neither would have earned that many trips to the plate on a good team. Both played all over the place. Neither could nail down a position in the field, owing to a combination of not being particularly adept at fielding and also not hitting well enough to compensate for it. Both showed a little bit of pop -- Hughes with seven homers, Plouffe with eight -- but the overall numbers weren't much to excite anyone. Plouffe hit .238 and struck out 71 times. Hughes fanned 79 times and had a .289 OBP. Both looked overmatched. Neither was guaranteed anything.
But both came to camp again in 2012, and both made the team. Hughes, at age 27, hit six homers in spring ball. Plouffe, 25, was also still living off of potential but -- as a 2004 first-round pick -- his time was not indefinite.
The season started, and neither played much -- not that they warranted it. Hughes went 2-for-10 in limited action through April 17. Plouffe was 1-for-10 in the same span.
And then two parallel careers started to wildly diverge.
The day after, on April 18, Hughes was designated for assignment by the Twins. He ended up getting picked up by the A's a short time later, but he struggled at the plate (1-for-13) and in the field with his new club and was sent down to the minors. He hit .235 at Class AAA Sacramento. And then, last night -- per a tweet from Hughes not long ago -- he was released.
Plouffe kept scuffling at the plate but he was out of minor league options and showed enough patience to keep running out there at various positions (he was hitting .133, 8-for-60, in mid-May but had drawn 13 walks to just 12 strikeouts). Danny Valencia, scuffling through an 0-for-25 May, was sent down to the minors around the same time (his final game this season with the Twins was May 9). With Valencia gone and Hughes gone and nobody else claiming third base, Plouffe gradually started to hit. He clubbed four homers in the second-half fo May and raised his average to .163 -- enough to keep buying him time. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, things REALLY clicked in June. Plouffe hit 11 homers and slugged .735 for the month. He went from a utility player with pop to a potential cornerstone in the blink of an eye and is now on a 14-game hitting streak.
Think about where they were last year, where they started this year and they could very easily have traded places right now -- with Hughes swinging a home run bat for the Twins and Plouffe wondering if he'll ever have a job in baseball again. You never know when you'll run out of chances -- or why -- and you never know when you'll suddenly figure things out.