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Updated: February 22nd, 2012 3:28pm
Notebook: After 'downward spiral,' Sean Burroughs is one to watch

Notebook: After 'downward spiral,' Sean Burroughs is one to watch

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There are some within the Minnesota Twins organization who believe Sean Burroughs could give incumbent third baseman Danny Valencia some real competition this spring.

Manager Ron Gardenhire was quick to soften that notion upon Burroughs' arrival to camp on Wednesday, saying, "There's plenty of people that could play third base, but not as good as Danny should be able to."

But Burroughs brings plenty of intrigue. Out of baseball for four seasons -- due in part to substance abuse problems -- Burroughs latched on with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization in 2011, hitting .273/.289/.336 in 115 major league plate appearances.

He was rated as one of Baseball America's top-10 prospects for three consecutive years in the early 2000's, and he posted a respectable .350 on-base percentage while hitting .292 in his first two full seasons with the San Diego Padres.

And at age 31, he has re-devoted himself to a passion that once left him.

"It was a premature retirement for me (in 2007), I'd say, and I went into a downward spiral," Burroughs said Wednesday, between unpacking bags in the Hammond Stadium clubhouse. "And I think I lost the love of it. But I really don't think I really lost the love of the game, I just started to love other things away from the field and it took away from my aspirations and my dreams. So I had to clean myself up and do what I had to do and everything started coming back again. ...

"Baseball was the farthest thing from my mind from like 2007 until May 2010. All the friends I made in baseball I kind of alienated myself from, I'd say. I made a whole new group of friends, per se, but they weren't really friends. They were like leeches or what not."

Burroughs was signed by the Twins to a minor league contract, so he comes into spring training as a non-roster invite. He refers to baseball as "the cherry on top" of his lifestyle turnaround -- a lifestyle that at one point included eating cheeseburgers out of dumpsters according to an ESPN Magazine article from last season.

"Every day seems a blessing to me. To wake up and do what I do, and what I've accomplished in a year, and not just in baseball, but my life in general -- being a good son again, being a good friend, showing up and doing things I haven't done for a while. Baseball's just kind of like the cherry on top, it really is. I get to come out here and act like a kid every day and play the game I love. I have to kind of pinch myself. ...

"Everything I did (last year) was to kind of get my foot in the door, that's how I looked at it, and that's how I look at it here. Nothing will be given to me. You've got to work for it, you've got to compete for it, make your impression on people. That's what I've done so far, and hopefully that will continue."

Of the 3,469 2/3 innings Burroughs has played in the major leagues, 3,388 2/3 have come at third base. He pitched an inning, played shortstop for two innings, and he played 78 innings at second base.

Burroughs has never played first base, and he has never played in the outfield, but he brought gloves for both and says he's open-minded to playing anywhere if it helps his chances to earn a 25-man roster spot at some point.

"He can pick it over (at third base)," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Very intelligent. As I said, very intelligent on the defensive side of the ball. Knows the game out there, positions himself well. Always did. And handles himself very well. (Rochester manager) Gene Glynn had him down in winter ball this year. He had him down in winter ball in Venezuela. He had great reports on him. ...

"Everything I've heard about him from winter ball, they told me he was one of those guys that everyone couldn't wait until he entered the clubhouse he brightened up the clubhouse. Made everybody have a good time. We all know everything he's been through. This is an exciting time for him I'm sure, getting an opportunity to get back in here and this kid can play some baseball. ... Let's see how he does on the baseball field, but this will be pretty exciting. We saw him way back and he was a pretty good hitter and he handled himself."

Burroughs will likely start the season with Triple-A Rochester. But he's firmly in the mix for one of the Twins' final bench spots.

Quick hits

• If the season started today, Gardenhire said Ryan Doumit would be hit designated hitter. "But there's always options of putting Doum behind the plate and having somebody else DH," Gardenhire said.

Denard Span went through another two-hour workout Wednesday with his fellow position players, with no visible issues.

Francisco Liriano threw another bullpen session Wednesday, along with 16 other pitchers.

Health report

• INF Luke Hughes received a cortisone shot in his strained right shoulder on Wednesday morning. An MRI showed no structural damage, and Hughes said he hopes to resume baseball activities by next week. Hughes also said he understands what this spring training could mean for his future -- or perhaps lack thereof -- in a Twins uniform.

• RHP Kyle Gibson was spotted running stairs at Hammond Stadium Wednesday with a few other minor league pitchers. Gibson underwent Tommy John surgery last August and likely won't pitch in a game for at least another six months.

Numbers game

31: Home runs hit in 2007 by Steve Pearce as a minor leaguer in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Pearce, who turns 29 in April, has yet to flip the switch in the major leagues, but as a non-roster invite he is a low-risk, high-reward signing. "He's another stocky little guy getting after it pretty good out there today that we are going to take a look at," Gardenhire said. "People were talking about him I was kind of excited because I watched him swing the bat and he was swinging like a man and I liked that. He was getting after it pretty good. We'll see."

Overheard

"(Expletive)."
-- Gardenhire, when asked by a reporter what his thoughts where when the Tigers signed Prince Fielder.

On deck

Thursday is the official reporting day for position players, but Justin Morneau and Oswaldo Arcia are the only two who have yet to arrive.

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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