The former shortstop couldn't secure that position last season, but the Twins hope his new spot will allow him to blossom.
FORT MYERS, FLA. - Pepperdine University, nestled among 830 acres that overlook the Pacific Ocean, has been ranked as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the world.
It was there that Trevor Plouffe completed his course of Outfield 101. Plouffe spent much of his offseason continuing his transformation from shortstop to outfielder -- and clearing his mind after a 2011 season during which he struggled mightily when given the chance to take over at shortstop.
Plouffe, a first-round pick in 2004, batted .238 with eight home runs and 31 RBI in 81 games over two call-ups to the majors. He committed 12 errors, many of them with his arm, and his mistakes exposed a farm system that failed the Twins when they needed to replace injured players.
The Twins used Plouffe in the outfield in 13 games last season, but it wasn't until General Manager Terry Ryan called Plouffe in October that the move to the outfield became official.
So it was back to school for Plouffe, who was drafted out of high school but lives a few minutes away from Malibu, Calif., where Pepperdine is located.
"They opened their facilities up, so they have a weight room to work out in and cages we can hit in," Plouffe said, "What was nice for me was that they had practice where they would hit on the field. I would get to shag their [batting practice]. I would go out there as much as I could, pretty much every day I was out there. A couple rounds a day and just seeing balls off the bat. This is the best way for me, taking the balls off the bat."
Part of him feels bad about leaving a position he's played for so long, but when Ryan explained that the move helps the club and that they were going to add Jamey Carroll to solidify short, Plouffe said he was all for it.
"I didn't play well last year in the infield," Plouffe said. "I wasn't happy about it. I thought I was a better shortstop than I showed. At the same time, like Terry said, this is a move that helps our team and I'll give that up 100 times out of 100 to not experience the losses like we had last year. The main thing that everyone wants now in this clubhouse, after experiencing last year, is just winning. By any means."
The Twins consider their starting outfield to be Ben Revere in left, Denard Span in center and free-agent addition Josh Willingham in right. But Plouffe could work his way into the picture because his righthanded power potential is something the Twins lack, outside of Willingham.
The Twins are hoping more playing time in the outfield builds Plouffe's confidence. While players have been known to let offensive struggles affect their defense, for Plouffe it was the opposite. An error in the field would affect him at the plate.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was asked if he noticed that from Plouffe last season.
"Both ways," Gardenhire said. "Taking his offense out to his defense and ... young players go through that."
Twins coach Jerry White said Plouffe has looked fairly comfortable in the outfield during drills this spring but needs more experience in tracking low line drives, the toughest adjustment for a player moving from the infield to the outfield.
Several players have made that transition in recent years and had their careers take off. Twins officials believe Michael Cuddyer, who left the team as a free agent this offseason for Colorado, relaxed more after moving from third base, where he had a poor .943 career fielding percentage, to the outfield. Another example is Royals outfielder Alex Gordon. Highly touted as a third baseman, he committed 30 errors his first two seasons there and batted .253. Kansas City made him a full-time outfielder last year and he batted .303 with 23 homers and 87 RBI.
What's tantalizing about Plouffe, 25, is that he hit .313 with 15 homers and 33 RBI and posted a 1.019 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 51 games at Class AAA Rochester last season, evidence of the power potential the Twins believe he possesses. Club officials hope moving to the outfield will allow Plouffe to relax and let his talents flow.
Plouffe is out of options and would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors. So being versatile -- he could still be used in the infield -- helps his case.
"We're trying to find a spot for him to try and let his game relax and give us some production with the bat," Ryan said. "The most recent example here was Cuddyer. We finally moved him to the outfield and he took off. [Plouffe] is athletic enough to be able to do it."
After an offseason at "college," Plouffe is ready for his big test.
"I feel good right now," Plouffe said. "We'll start playing games and see how it goes from there."
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