Souhan: Thomas is more than mere transaction for Twins

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 16, 2012 - 7:00 AM

Picking up outfielder Clete Thomascould have a ripple effect on a Twins roster that might be in flux for the next month.

There are three stages of grief, and three stages of Target Field disbelief.

Clete Thomas, claimed off waivers from Detroit, made his Twins and Target Field debut on Sunday. His first swing launched a drive toward the power alley in right.

"I hit it and I was like, 'Man, it's a homer!''' Thomas said. "Then I got close to first, and I thought, 'OK, it's at least off the wall.' Then I looked up and said, 'Oh, no, he caught it.' ''

Thomas is not complaining about Kubel's Alley, at least not yet. He knew playing time would be scarce in Detroit. "I'm kind of glad I wound up on waivers,'' he said. "Because now I have this opportunity.''

The transaction looked innocuous, even irrelevant. The Twins, in the midst of a losing week and pitching woes, picked up an extra outfielder. This was not an occasion that would prompt the printing of playoff tickets.

But unlike many daily baseball moves that prove meaningless, this one is the result of organizational roots and relationships, and could have a ripple effect on a Twins roster that might be in flux for the next month.

Sunday, Thomas flew deep to right in the third inning and hit a long homer to right in the fifth, giving the Twins a 2-1 lead. His relay led to an out at the plate in the sixth. He struck out in the seventh, providing a reminder of his greatest challenge as a hitter. He struck out 130 times in 367 at-bats at Class AAA Toledo last season.

The Twins always have liked him. He helped Mosley High School in Lynn Haven, Fla., win a state title, and competed against Twins outfielder Denard Span. "We took our recruiting trip to Florida State together,'' Thomas said.

In high school, the bat boy was the son of a Twins scout, and the Twins selected him in the fifth round of the 2003 draft. He chose to attend Auburn.

Detroit chose him in the sixth round of the 2005 draft, and he broke into the big leagues in 2008. "He's always been on our radar,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I told [General Manager] Terry [Ryan] when we were looking at our roster at the end of spring training that Detroit had some players that we really liked, like Clete, and we knew they had too many people.

"Detroit kept this guy because they wanted to slip him through waivers after the season began, because I know they love him over there.''

Gardenhire is friendly with Tigers manager Jim Leyland, and knows the Tigers roster well. "Clete drives the ball and can run, and has a strong arm in the outfield,'' Gardenhire said. "He can take a little pressure off our catching situation.''

Justin Morneau has played exclusively as a designated hitter this season to protect him from a recurring concussion symptoms. Morneau told Gardenhire he would like to try playing first base on the road trip. "He's ready,'' Gardenhire said. "I think it's driving him crazy sitting there all game as a DH. He feels like he gets away from the game.''

Gardenhire's ideal lineup this season has featured Mauer at catcher, Morneau at DH, Chris Parmelee at first and Ryan Doumit in right field, but Gardenhire feels handcuffed by that alignment because Doumit is his only backup catcher, and he doesn't feel free to substitute for Doumit in the field. If Doumit was out of the game and Mauer got hurt, Luke Hughes would be forced to catch, and nobody wants to see that.

If Morneau can play first base, then Gardenhire can occasionally play Doumit at catcher and Mauer at DH, with Thomas in right field, especially against righthanded pitchers. "This kid has some talent,'' Gardenhire said. "Some speed and a little pop.''

Thomas might have a dry sense of humor, as well. Asked about his history with the Twins, Thomas said, "They drafted me out of high school, me and Denard. I went to college, to Auburn.

"It's good to be back.''

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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