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Updated: November 13th, 2011 8:10pm
Mackey: Four hitters new outfielder Plouffe might compare to in 2012

Mackey: Four hitters new outfielder Plouffe might compare to in 2012

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

On Sunday, Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan told 1500 ESPN that shortstop Trevor Plouffe is likely to spend most of his time in the outfield or as a designated hitter in 2012.

Not necessarily surprising, considering Plouffe's struggles at the position and the Twins' insistence on finding middle infield help this offseason.

But what does the position switch mean?

Well, for one, the Twins could be preparing for the departure of free agent outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. If those two men leave, the Twins need a right fielder. Even if one of them returns, the Twins need outfield depth.

The move also signifies that the Twins are well aware Plouffe's clock is ticking to some degree. The 25-year-old former first-round pick is out of minor league options, and it's time to stop messing around with a position that clearly appears to be too much for Plouffe to handle. He simply lacks the range and arm accuracy to play shortstop.

According to video scouting data at Baseball Info Solutions, Plouffe, rated as one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball last year -- 17 runs below league average in only 45 games at the position. He also made 11 errors over that stretch, seven of the throwing variety.

To that, Ryan added, "Unfortunately I think that defensive side of the game affects him some when he does go to the plate."

In 320 plate appearances last season Plouffe hit .238/.305/.392 with eight home runs, but his offensive upside is difficult to project, as a Triple-A spike in early 2011 seemed to indicate that a light bulb turned on. In 220 plate appearances for Rochester, Plouffe exploded for a .313/.384/.635 batting line with 15 home runs.

Digging deeper into those 220 trips, Plouffe shattered his previous career Triple-A marks in walk rate (9.5%), isolated power (.323) and BABIP (.319).

At no other point before or after that stretch has Plouffe been so locked in.

Piecing together the entire picture, a realistic expectation for Plouffe's rate stats in 2012 probably looks like this -- a walk rate around 7.5-8%, a strikeout rate between 20-22%, isolated power of .175-.190 and a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) between .285-.295.

Using those projections and those four core categories as guidelines, Plouffe would be most comparable to these four players offensively (using cumulative numbers from 2008-2011):

* Per 500 plate appearances
Ben Francisco: .259/.333/.427, 15 HR
Jhonny Peralta: .269/.325/.429, 14 HR
Cody Ross: .261/.321/.445, 17 HR
John Buck: .245/.310/.416, 17 HR

Of course, Peralta showed his offensive upside with a breakout in 2011 (.299/.345/.478, 21 HR).

Problem is, any of those aforementioned batting lines by Francisco, Peralta, Ross and Buck are fantastic for a shortstop, but not so much for an outfielder, especially a corner outfielder -- with the exception of Peralta's breakout year, which fits at any position.

A projected .760 OPS would have ranked Plouffe 42nd last year among outfielders with at least 400 plate appearances, with a projected .333 weighted on-base average (wOBA) ranking him 45th.

That type of offensive production is certainly respectable, especially on a Twins team that scored only 619 runs last year. But Plouffe -- who has played fewer than 150 innings in the outfield during his professional career -- would need to turn himself into a very solid defensive outfielder in order to be a true impact player.

That remains to be seen.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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