When Miguel Sano entered the Twins’ organization, Trevor Plouffe became labeled a transitional player, a placeholder, a bridge.
At the moment, he’s contending for a more complimentary title. He’s vying with Brian Dozier to become known as the Twins’ best all-around player.
Plouffe has been a hotshot prospect, a struggling pro and a defensive liability. In previous years, he was known for playing cards for hours before games, and for hitting enough home runs to stay employed.
Today, he’s the cleanup hitter on a winning team, a quality fielder, and even has prompted people at several levels of the organization to call him a leader.
“From where I started, it’s pretty cool,” Plouffe said. “I’m proud of that. I love being part of this organization. I know there were times when that was going to be in question, probably. People here have had confidence in me, and I’ve had confidence in myself. It’s been fun this year, for sure.”
Sunday, the Twins didn’t much of that, losing 11-3 to Tampa Bay as Plouffe went 1-for-3. On the season, he’s batting .254 with five homers and 18 RBI.
For once, Plouffe’s successes are not revealed by traditional statistics. He has increased his range and first-step quickness, and has thrown more accurately, and has become known in the clubhouse as a player who embraces responsibility.
“I can’t say enough how awesome he has been at third base,” closer Glen Perkins said. “It’s amazing. You can put him up against almost anybody at this point.”
There were times in previous years when the pitching staff might have pitched in to buy him a one-way ticket to anywhere. Not coincidentally, Plouffe wasn’t known in his first couple of seasons for doing much extra work on his own.
“His first step is quicker,” Perkins said. “He covers more ground. The last couple of days I’ve gone out to watch our pitchers hit and make fun of them, and he’s been out there fielding grounders from Geno [Glynn] at third. He’s going over and doing barehand drills, footwork drills. He’s worked hard, and we’re seeing the results.”
During the winter, Plouffe works on side-to-side drills to increase range. During the season, Plouffe credits working with Twins manager Paul Molitor last year when he was a coach, and this year with Glynn, the Twins’ third base and infield coach.
“A lot of it has to do with those guys, who have worked with me,” Plouffe said. “With Geno, we started working in spring training and one of the first things he said to me was, ‘You’re a good third baseman, be yourself. You’ve enough years of people telling you how you should be, how you should field, what it should look like — what you do is right, go out there and be yourself.’ I think that really resonated with me. It was cool to hear that.”
The Twins chose Plouffe with the 20th pick in the first round in 2004, and Perkins with the 22nd pick. The two began their professional career at rookie-league Elizabethton, Tenn.
“I remember sitting on a bus with him in E-Town just talking, one of the first days we were both there together,” Perkins said. “It’s funny how different our careers turned out than we thought they would at that point. He was a shortstop, wasn’t a power guy, was a slick fielder with a strong arm. And I was a starter. Here we are, 10-11 years later. …”
The Twins already are looking for creative ways to keep Eduardo Escobar in the lineup. Soon, Oswaldo Arcia will be activated from the disabled list, and sometime this summer Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton might arrive. There could be more talented players than positions.
The presumption for years was that Plouffe would be expendable by the time Sano was ready to play third base. But what if Plouffe is the Twins’ best player at that point? What if he’s a proven cleanup hitter and a far better fielder than Sano?
The placeholder might just stay in place.