Saturday, August 27, 2011

Who is Trevor Plouffe?

Plouffe tags out Delmon Young as he tries to stretch a single into a double
Trevor Plouffe joined the Minnesota Twins organization in 2004 as a first-round draft choice out of a California high school.  Chosen 20th overall, Plouffe was immediately anointed the future starting shortstop for the Twins.  About a week later, he signed and reported to Elizabethton in the Appalachian League to begin his professional baseball career.  In that first exposure he merely treaded water, posting a .719 OPS in 60 games with the E-Twins.

That was better than he would perform in his next two seasons, as unproductive full seasons at each level of A-ball in 2005 and 2006, respectively, had a lot of fans doubting Plouffe's chances of contributing at the big league level.  He was plummeting down prospect lists, but his potential and his age kept him relevant.  Still, he moved up another level, to Double-A, in 2007 and showed some improvement.  His batting average jumped by about 30 points to .274, aided by a slightly lower strikeout rate, and his power saw an uptick from the lower levels.  At the same time, he didn't get on base nearly as often because his walks dried up.

Minnesota decided his performance was good enough to warrant sending him to the Arizona Fall League that off-season, a league reserved for some of each team's more developed prospects.  The experience didn't seem to change much, though, as Plouffe returned to Double-A in 2008 and almost perfectly replicated his batting line from the year before.  Once again the Twins thought this was sufficient and promoted him to Triple-A at the tender age of 22.  There, he showcased the same mediocre skill set, save for a lower BABIP which resulted in a lower OPS.

Plouffe spent almost all of the following two seasons at Rochester, demonstrating the same offensive ability each season.  In 2008, his wOBA at Triple-A was .311; in 2009, .315; in 2010, .316.  At this point, Twins fans thought it was pretty clear what they had in Plouffe, and they were fairly disappointed.  Even though he played shortstop, the combination of his defense, which drew less-than-stellar reviews, and his below average offense seemed destined to prevent him from approaching the level expected when the Twins drafted him.  His 44-at bat tryout with Minnesota in 2010 that resulted in a .460 OPS only solidified this fact.

That all changed in 2011, when Plouffe suddenly began to hit.  Back in Rochester for the fourth straight year, his average climbed to .313, by far its highest point in his minor league career, but a higher-than-normal BABIP meant that it was probably bound to fall.  More promising was the power explosion, as he smashed 15 homers in only 192 at bats and had an awesome .323 ISO.  With that performance, he finally got an extended chance with the Twins, though he was initially forced into a utility role, playing positions he hadn't played at all in the minors.

Back at second base and then shortstop regularly with injuries to Alexi Casilla and then Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Plouffe has shown that he may yet have a future as a starter for the Twins.  He unsurprisingly hasn't hit as well as he did at Triple-A earlier in the year, but he has done enough to put himself on the map for 2012 and beyond.  Whether the part-season power surge in Rochester was for real or not, only time will tell, but it will likely determine whether Plouffe grabs and then holds onto a starting job.

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