Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Can Plouffe escape the "4A" mold?

In a piece written by Kevin Goldstein for ESPN (hidden behind their Insider wall), he took a look at the troubles some players have escaping the mold of being a "4A" hitter. He discusses the case of Nelson Cruz and how is one of the few players who has been able to shake the "4A" label and find success in the major leagues.

The Twins have one player on their roster that is looking to shake the same label in 2012. Trevor Plouffe has found reasonable success at the AAA level but his transition to the big leagues has not been entirely smooth. Can Plouffe escape the "4A" mold and find success with the Twins in the coming year? Let's start by looking at what Cruz did become and offensive threat.

Cruz went all the way from the high-A level to the triple-A level in 2004 with the Oakland franchise. By the end of the year, he had put together a batting line of .326/.390/.562 with 26 home runs, 42 doubles and 100 RBI. In 2005 he was shifted over to the Milwaukee organization and found continued success at the Double-A and Triple-A level. He batted .289/.385/.537 with 27 home runs and 32 doubles. The Brewers would call him up for his debut in 2005 but he only got a taste of the big leagues for eight games.

Over the next three seasons, Cruz would continue to see significant time at the AAA level but he could never break through when he got called up to his new organization, the Rangers. His time at the AAA level seemed ridiculous because he was destroying the pitching at that level. In 2007, he batted .352/.428/.698 and he followed that season by hitting .342/.429/.695 with 37 home runs during the 2007 season.

While he had a hot bat for his Triple-A squad, his time spent with the Rangers was lacking some of the luster he had shown in the minor leagues. From 2006-2008, he got 603 plate appearances with Texas and struggled by hitting .252/.311/.431 with 27 doubles and 22 home runs. Something clicked for Cruz from that season going forward. In 2009, he had a breakout year by hitting 33 home runs and being selected to the All-Star Game. Over the last two seasons, the Rangers have won back-to-back American League Championships and Cruz has been an offensive threat for each of those squads.

The Plouffe story line follows some of the same ups and downs that followed Cruz during his younger days. During the 2008 season, Plouffe made it to the Triple-A level and showed the ability to hold his own at 22-years old. He would spend all of the 2009 season with Rochester and he batted .260/.313/.407 with 10 home runs and 23 doubles. Entering the 2010 season, Plouffe was again sent to Triple-A and he struggled to the tune of hitting .244/.300/.430 in 102 games. The 2011 season was a breakout year for Plouffe at the Triple-A level and he should have been able to succeed since it was his fourth season versus pitching at that level. During his 192 at-bats, he hit .313/.384/.635 with 15 home runs and 11 doubles.

During the last two seasons, the Twins have given Plouffe multiple chances to prove himself at the MLB level. In 2010, he floundered in 22 games by hitting an awful .146/.143/.317 with two home runs. The 2011 campaign saw Plouffe show flashes of power but he still struggled at making consistent contact. He finished the year with a batting line of .238/.305/.392 with eight home runs and 18 doubles.

Terry Ryan and the Twins have made it be known this offseason that Plouffe will likely be spending more time in the outfield in 2012. In an interview with the Pioneer Press, Ryan wanted to make sure Plouffe isn't forgotten about as the Twins try to create their line-up for Opening Day. He would go on to compare Plouffe to recently departed outfield Michael Cuddyer who made the same infield to outfield switch. Like Cuddyer, Plouffe's switch to a new defensive position could allow him to break through the mold of the "4A" player in 2012.


TT said...

Plouffe has never been a "4A" player. He has simply been young for his league and still developing. He put up numbers last year that look a lot like Cruz when Cruz was already two years older. Without as many strikeouts.

Nelson Cruz didn't suddenly start hitting at the major league level. The Rangers got him to revamp his swing in the minor leagues after he passed through waivers. He cut down his strikeouts and made more contact. Had he been in the Twins system, with its emphasis on making contact and hitting to all fields, that might have happened a few years earlier.

NoDak Twins Fan said...

I used Cruz in the story because that was the way the ESPN story was written. Obviously, there are going to be difference because they aren't the same player. Plouffe has spent parts of four seasons at the AAA level and he found success there last year. It is time for him to produce at the MLB level or the Twins will be forced to go in a different direction

PK said...

I agree 2012 is the year Plouffe is going to have to show he deserves to stay in the major leagues. And based on comments of Terry Ryan, he is going to get his chance to produce.

TT said...

I realize the Nelson Cruz example is from ESPN, it just isn't a very good example. But then its ESPN ...

I think Plouffe is out of options isn't he? So he is going to be on the roster this year or he will have to be passed through waivers. They aren't going to carry him if he doesn't produce, but I think his glove may be a bigger concern than his bat.