Mackey: Twins frustrated with Trevor Plouffe's defensive struggles
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MINNEAPOLIS -- In the first month of the most important season of his career, Minnesota Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe has already found himself sitting on the bench for two consecutive games.
Call it a weekend getaway to the doghouse.
The temporary -- we think -- benching stems in part from a defensive misplay in Friday night's game against the Texas Rangers, when Plouffe shifted to his right in an attempt to field a chopper hit by Geovany Soto off to his glove side. Predictably, rather than Plouffe playing the ball, the ball played Plouffe and skipped past his glove into left field for what was generously, and curiously, ruled a single.
Over the course of 162 games, every player makes defensive mistakes, but the Soto chopper was not an isolated gaffe by Plouffe, a converted shortstop.
Since returning to the infield at third base early last season, Plouffe has made 19 errors in 113 games, and range metrics (plus/minus, Ultimate Zone Rating, etc.) rate him as one of the worst defensive third basemen in baseball over the past calendar year.
In an interview with 1500 ESPN on Saturday, general manager Terry Ryan sounded exasperated about the aforementioned chopper from Friday, saying "That's a play that a major league third baseman, not just Trevor Plouffe, but a..."
Ryan paused, thought for a brief moment, and continued.
"Actually a professional player should make that play. You might give a hit to a high school kid or a college kid, but a professional baseball player should make that."
Manager Ron Gardenhire isn't calling Plouffe's temporary absence from the lineup a punishment, but he penciled in defensive wiz Eduardo Escobar at third base on Saturday and Jamey Carroll at the hot corner on Sunday. In his office on Saturday morning, the skipper was visibly annoyed by Plouffe's sloppy glovework.
"He just didn't attack it," Gardenhire said. "He stepped back. It took a bad hop after the fact, but basically it was right there and he just took a side step to play the big hop... He's just not attacking enough right now, stepping back a lot.
"We're going to go back into our drills. That's one thing I've talked to Scott (Ullger) about; we need to go back to our soft toss drills and get him attacking, because he's getting in a rut of really stepping back on everything. We need to get him to be more aggressive."
The Twins don't have any allusions of Plouffe becoming a Nick Punto-like defender at third base. The hope was, and is, that he'd supplement powerful offensive production with adequate defense.
Problem is, outside of a two-month stretch before the 2012 All-Star break, Plouffe's bat has been fairly quiet. He is hitting just .226/.310/.403 with two home runs -- both solo -- after hitting .212/.271/.347 with five home runs in the second half of last season.
Most teams, the Twins included, would prefer to have power at all four corner spots, but Gardenhire has a history of going against the grain. In 2006 he pulled the plug on the Tony Batista experiment and let Nick Punto run with the third base job. Along with playing elite defense, Punto wound up hitting .290/.352/.373 with 17 stolen bases.
It worked. And the Twins -- with one of the most groundball-heavy, defense-reliant pitching staffs in baseball this year -- could make a similar permanent move if they choose to with Escobar, who is off to a sizzling start at the plate (.438/.455/.625 in just 33 plate appearances heading into Monday), although Ryan poured some cold water on that notion.
"Everybody can watch Escobar and say, 'Man, oh man,' but eventually the advanced scouts and the advanced film and the pitching are going to address it a little differently than they are right now, because he's shown that he can handle a fastball. He'll hit a fastball a long ways. ...
"(Aaron) Hicks is experiencing some of that. He doesn't see too many fastballs. He sees a lot of that soft stuff, breaking balls. That's exactly what happens once your reputation starts to precede you. Those scouts out there are paying attention. They're not going to give you information. Escobar has had about four or five at-bats where I'm sure he's shocked the heck out of the outfielders. ...
"So, eventually, I suspect you'll ultimately see, if he keeps doing what he's doing, Gardy will find spots to get him out there more frequently."
Plouffe, who is 26 and out of minor league options, will almost certainly be given more rope to solidify himself at third.
But it appears he's on notice.