Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Blame it on spring, but I see hope with Plouffe

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: March 27, 2014 - 4:11 AM

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Presumably it’s the optimism that fans of the Grand Old Game are supposed to feel at the start of every season, no matter how high the obstacles seem stacked against the home team.

Whatever the evidence that exists to the contrary, there are hints I’ve seen that the hitter most likely to wind up behind Joe Mauer in the batting order is going to be Trevor Plouffe.

It will not start that way; Ron Gardenhire will give the first shots at that to Josh Willingham and/or Jason Kubel. Both are veterans with their best days as hitters behind them – the way it has looked this spring, far behind them.

Gardenhire and Plouffe have had a tenuous relationship. Plouffe was part of the “fun bunch’’ of younger players in 2011 that didn’t seem to be properly filled with angst over the on-field disaster that was taking place that season.

All that was established with Plouffe in his rookie season was that he couldn’t play shortstop … the position at which he had been drafted in the first round in 2004 and had played for most of his time in the minors.

Plouffe moved around early in 2012, outfield and second base, before taking voer at third base for the failed Danny Valencia. He has started 211 games at third base over the past two seasons.

As many nights as not, there seems to have been at least one Plouffe play – a boot, a bad decision, a lack of range – that has disappointed the manager.

Yeah, we’ll go with that, “disappointed,’’ rather than me putting a stronger word in the manager’s mouth.

I do think the manager and his coaching staff finally reached the conclusion last season that Plouffe’s flaws were not due to a lack of work by him on his fielding. He’s gifted with neither quick reactions nor soft hands.

So be it.

Two or three head shakers a week are not the Twins’ issue at the moment. It would help if Plouffe could improve his timing, and not have the bad plays show up at the worst possible moment for his pitcher, but hey, it’s third base …

Harmon Killebrew started 718 big-league games there. A full-figured Miggy Cabrera played there the past two seasons, risking life, limb and winning back-to-back MVPs.

If he hits, Plouffe as the third baseman becomes part of the solution, not one of the Twins’ problems.

I know. Take away that torrid stretch from May 16 to July 3, 2012, when he hit 18 home runs in 39 games, and there’s not much in the numbers to recommend Plouffe as a serious threat to big-league pitchers.

I don’t care. He has a stronger look this spring. More importantly, I feel like we’re seeing better plate coverage … that he’s been showing the ability to stay on the pitch away and drive it to right fgield.

He will turn 28 in June. This is it. Plouffe either becomes a force as a hitter, or we spend a few more months hearing about his inconsistency with the bat and his inadequacy with the glove, and then he’s gone by late summer … gone even before Miguel Sano starts his comeback from Tommy John surgery.

I don’t think it’s going to work out that way. I think Plouffe is going to wind up batting third or fourth (admittedly in a low-octane lineup), hit .270, lead the Twins in home runs with 25 or more, and be seen as a hitter worth keeping (left field?) when Sano takes over at third base in 2015.

I still think there’s something there with Plouffe. If I’m wrong, I always can blame inhaling too much of the fresh air of a new baseball season.

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