FORT MYERS, Fla. – While standing in front of his locker stall in the Minnesota Twins spring training clubhouse at Hammond Stadium Friday (March 9) morning, Trevor Plouffe realized his baseball career had arrived full-circle.
That is not to infer that Plouffe’s baseball-playing days have passed him by. In fact, the opposite is true – the 25-year-old Plouffe is on the verge of experiencing his first Opening Day on a Major League roster. This was more of a time-and-place sort of revelation.
On Aug. 23, 2003, Plouffe walked out onto the Hammond Stadium field as a member of the West Team at the inaugural Aflac All-American Classic (now the Perfect Game All-American Classic). Then a 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior middle-infielder at Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, Calif., Plouffe felt on top of the world.
“That was the inaugural (Classic) and nobody knew what to expect of it because it was the first event,” Plouffe said before Friday’s Grapefruit League game between the Twins and the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. “I was honored to be a part of it and I knew a lot of guys who were going (to the event) from previous showcases and Team USA. The talent there was great and I wanted to be a part of it.
“And it’s funny that the game was here. It was at Hammond Stadium,” he continued. “We played on this field and had a great time, and I ended up getting drafted by the Twins and now this is my home for spring training. It kind of sent me full-circle.”
The journey from Hammond Stadium in the summer of 2003 back to Hammond Stadium in the spring of 2012 has provided Plouffe with quite a ride.
He was selected by the Twins with the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2004 MLB amateur draft and spent all or part of the next eight seasons in the minor leagues, including four at Triple-A Rochester. He made his big league debut with the Twins on May 21, 2010, and hit only .146 with two home runs in 22 games.
Plouffe started the 2011 season back in Rochester and rediscovered his hitting stroke. He hit .313 (60-for-192) with 15 home runs, 33 RBI and a 1.019 OPS in 51 games and was called back up to the big club. Once back, he played in 81 games – mostly at shortstop and second base – and hit .238 (68-for-286) with eight home runs and 31 RBI.
This year can only be described as a transition year for the personable Plouffe. The Twins have decided to turn the life-long middle-infielder into a corner outfielder.
“The spring is going well,” he said. “I’m making the transition into the outfield, which is something different for me, but so far it’s gone well and I’ve been able to get out there and do things pretty smoothly. The team’s looking good and everyone’s healthy and that’s what you want in spring training.”
Plouffe had never played outfield before Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire inserted him in left field for three games at the end of last season. He recorded four putouts for a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.
“I’ve had guys I can learn from,” Plouffe said. “I learned from Michael Cuddyer last year … and I’ve got guys like (Denard) Span helping me out, so I try to soak up as much information as I can and it’s been going pretty well.”
Learning a new position while also trying to earn a spot on the Twins’ 25-man roster presents a pronounced challenge and makes this spring training camp the most important of Plouffe’s career.
“I’m using it to really get some experience out there,” Plouffe said. “It’s also an important year because I’m going to try to make the team and I think I have a good chance, but I don’t want to make the team just because I’m out of options; I want to contribute.
“I feel good, but the most important thing in this clubhouse is that everyone’s healthy – that’s what we missed last year and we’re looking forward to getting out there with a full squad this year.”
Plouffe, now a solid 6-2, 205-pounds, isn’t an all-star at the Major League level yet, not like he was back in the summer of 2003 when he was surrounded by first-round talent at the Aflac All-American Classic.
Future first-round draft selections Homer Bailey, Matt Bush and Greg Golson were teammates of Plouffe’s on the West Team, and there were five first-round picks – including Giovanny Gonzalez and Neil Walker – on the East Team.
The East starter that night was young right-hander and future 14th-round pick Nick Adenhart.
“It was definitely the most high-concentration of top guys that I had ever played with,” Plouffe said. “It was big; they televised it and it was a big event. I hadn’t done anything that big (up to that point).”
Plouffe committed to Southern California, played his senior season at Crespi Carmelite, got drafted and signed with the Twins, and then began his minor league career at Elizabethton in the Rookie Appalachian League. His eight year minor league career had begun and Plouffe was learning the meaning of perseverance.
“Every year is a grind,” he said with a cheerful tone in his response. “The season is long and you’ve just got to play through it. You get to those days where you’re not as enthused as you were at the beginning of the season, or vice-versa.
“But the main thing you’ve got to work on is going out there and staying consistent and confident, because you’ve got to be just as good on the last day of the season as you were on the first day of the season.”
The Twins finished a very disappointing and very un-Twins-like 63-99 (.389) in 2011, dead-last in the American League Central Division standings and 32 games behind division champion Detroit. They were riddled with injuries that certainly hurt the club but also provided opportunities.
“Actually, we can use that to our advantage because a lot of guys got to come up and get some experience, guys that are going to contribute this year,” Plouffe said. “So 2012 is a little bit of a redemption year for us, and when we’re healthy we’re a great squad. We’re not used to having years like we had year – we’re used to winning American (League) Central titles and getting to the playoffs. So that’s the mindset we have, is to get back to that.”