Monday, March 21, 2016

Plouffe's Failure Leads To Transformation

Caylor Arnold- USA Today Sports
In the summer of 2004, the Twins were in the midst of a run for their third straight AL Central crown. The sudden success on the field meant the club was in the routine of drafting later rather than earlier in the first round of baseball's amateur draft. That June the team focused on shortstop and a scrawny high schooler would be their first pick.

Trevor Plouffe grew up in Southern California and was committed to the University of Southern California before the Twins came calling. He was listed as 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds but those might have been a little exaggerated if you look at this photo from shortly after he was drafted.

Baseball America wrote this scouting report about Plouffe as he entered the draft. "He has a wiry frame, soft hands and fluid middle-infield actions in the mold of Robin Yount." They went on to say, "His range and arm strength are a notch below Matt Bush, the nation's top prep shortstop, but Plouffe may be a better hitter. He has a flatter swing path and the wrist action needed to drive balls."

This prediction would turn out to be true as Bush and two other high school shortstops were taken before Plouffe in that draft. The aforementioned Bush was the first overall pick but he never made the big leagues and ended up serving prison time. Chris Nelson is a bench player that has accumulated a negative WAR over five seasons. Stephen Drew is the only one of the group with a higher WAR than Plouffe and he's played almost twice as many big league games.

After being drafted by Minnesota, Plouffe moved through the system while being younger than the competition at every level. In his minor league career, he hit .258/.320/.405 (.725 OPS) while never hitting more than 15 home runs at any level. He made it to Triple-A by age 22 and would make his big league debut at the age of 24.

There were plenty of struggles for Plouffe in his first taste of the big leagues. From 2010-2011, he hit .226/.286/.382 (.668 OPS) with 30 extra-base hits in over 360 plate appearances. He also struck out in 26% of his at-bats. His defense at shortstop was also rough to say the least. According to defensive runs saved, he cost the Twins 14 runs alone in 2011.

Something needed to change.

In the winter of 2012, the Twins decided to move Plouffe away from shortstop and shift him to the outfield. The club hoped the move would spark Plouffe much like it did for another first round pick, Michael Cuddyer. However, he would only play 17 games there that season because Danny Valencia struggled at the plate and Minnesota needed someone for third base. Plouffe had found a new home.

Flash-forward to the present day and Plouffe is now the second longest tenured Twins player behind Joe Mauer. He has nestled himself nicely into a solid everyday regular with improved defense at third base while topping 20 home runs in two of the last four seasons. He also went on one of the most impressive home run tears in team history when he hit 10 home runs in a 14 game stretch during the 2012 campaign.

In recent years, there had been rumblings about the possibility of Plouffe being traded to make room for star prospect Miguel Sano. Those rumors never came to fruition and Plouffe's strong defense at third means Sano will play outfield this coming season. Plouffe is under team control for the 2016 and 2017 seasons but that still doesn't mean the Twins won't consider moving him over the next handful of years.

Minnesota surprised a lot of teams by contending in 2015 even while some of their young prospects were still trying to figure out baseball's highest level. Many feel the Twins will come back to the pack this season. If the Twins are out of the race in mid-July, Plouffe will likely hear his name on the trading block once again and it could make sense to deal him if the price is right.

Plouffe has been part of some tough seasons in Minnesota with multiple 90-loss seasons marking the last handful of years. He's still transformed from a first-round pick to a failed shortstop to an above average MLB regular.

Minnesota stayed the course with Plouffe and it has paid off on the field and in the clubhouse.

No comments: