MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Trevor Plouffe and the Minnesota Twins were both out of options.
Plouffe, the 26-year-old former first-round draft pick, spent his first three stints with the Twins swinging at every pitch in sight and bouncing around the diamond as the team tried to find a position for him that didn't bring errors and inconsistency.
In the span of a month, Plouffe went from barely hanging on to a roster spot on one of the worst teams in baseball to slugging it out with reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun in a weekend series with the Milwaukee Brewers.
"It's hard to explain," Plouffe said. "I'm just trying to ride the wave as long as possible."
By May 14 this year, Plouffe was hitting .133 with one home run and three RBIs, showing little to none of the promise that had scouts excited about the athletic, powerful shortstop they drafted out of high school in 2004.
Stuck at the bottom of the AL Central with one of the worst records in the majors, the Twins were in desperate need of some offense and in much need of stability on defense. They had already sent third baseman Danny Valencia to Triple-A Rochester, but Plouffe was out of options, meaning he would have to pass through waivers if the Twins wanted to send him back down as well.
Rather than risk losing a former first-round pick, the Twins kept running Plouffe out to third base and hoping that playing him at the same position every day would yield some rewards at the plate. Even they couldn't have expected what happened starting on May 16.
Plouffe has hit .315 with 13 homers and 21 RBIs in the last 22 games, emerging as the kind of power-hitting corner infielder that everyone in this organization has been waiting for him to become practically since Day 1.
Suddenly, Plouffe is leading the Twins in home runs with 14, and his 13 in 22 games are the most in the majors during that span — more than Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols or Braun.
"We have a great view of it sitting in the dugout and we get to hear the crack of the bat and see the ball fly," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's pretty amazing to tell you the truth. It pretty much seems like every night he hits one. It's an amazing feat. The guy is locked in and seeing it pretty good."
Finding a home at third base may have helped. He had bounced around shortstop, second base, first base, third base, left field and right field and now knows where he's going to be every time he shows up at the ballpark. After committing 11 errors in 45 games at shortstop last season, Plouffe has made several highlight-worthy bare-handers at third this season and is getting more acclimated to the position.
"I guess it has to help," Plouffe said with a shrug. "That was my goal coming into the season, I was going to be kind of a utility guy and I was fine with that. Moving around was OK. Settling in at third base is something that seems like it's working for now."
Secondly, and perhaps even more important, Plouffe has been much more disciplined at the plate. He had earned the reputation as a free-swinger who would chase pitches out of the zone, putting himself behind in the count far too often. He struck out 71 times in 81 games last year.
Plouffe has still been striking out at a decent rate during his surge — 20 whiffs in 22 games — but he is working counts better and showing more patience. On Saturday, after his first two-homer game of his career on Friday night, the Brewers pitched around him, walking him three times.
"Trevor didn't chase and he didn't give in to the strike zone," Gardenhire said after that game. "He's comfortable. He's seeing the ball very well and he didn't try to chase or force the issue, which is a good thing."
There were times, Plouffe admits, both in the minor leagues and when he was up with the Twins that his confidence was shaken. But he credits Braun with helping him attack the mental side of the game. Plouffe and Braun have known each other for more than 15 years, dating back to Plouffe's high school days playing with Braun's younger brother.
"He's a guy that's obviously supremely confident in his abilities, as he should be," Plouffe said. "That's something that he's tried to instill in me. It's tough to be confident when you're not having success all the time. That's something that you have to have in this game at this level. You have to be able to trust your routine and be confident in your skill set."
The two of them put on quite a power-hitting show during their three-game weekend series. Plouffe hit two homers in the opener and Braun belted a pair in Game 2 on Saturday.
And Braun doesn't think Plouffe's jaw-dropping run of 10 homers in 14 games is a fluke.
"He's got a great head on his shoulders. I think he has great perspective," Braun said. "He has the right personality to succeed in this game. I've always said the way that you deal with adversity ultimately dictates the success that you have in this game. And he's the type of person that doesn't get too high or too low. He doesn't get overly discouraged when he struggles, and I don't think he's too high right now when he's playing as well as he is."
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