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Updated: December 3rd, 2012 7:16pm
Notebook: Twins close to finding competition at 3B for Trevor Plouffe

Notebook: Twins close to finding competition at 3B for Trevor Plouffe

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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NASHVILLE -- Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan is focusing most of his attention on starting pitching at this week's winter meetings.

Ryan spent most of Monday meeting with agents for starting pitchers and talking to opposing general managers about possible trades.

"I don't believe there's a guy (I haven't checked in on)," Ryan said. "I've talked to quite a few agents for starting pitching."

As the Twins sift through their starting pitching options -- they're in on John Lannan, Brett Myers and others -- they also have made time to look at bringing in competition for third baseman Trevor Plouffe.

Ryan confirmed Monday he has made progress this week on finding someone to push Plouffe. When asked if Plouffe's competition could be unveiled before the end of the winter meetings on Thursday, Ryan grinned and said, "Maybe."

"We need to create competition," he added. "I don't want to be flippant about that because I told Trevor that. I think it'll be good for him. He needs to compete and earn it."

It's unclear who the Twins are targeting, but it will almost certainly be an acquisition that comes with a reliable glove and a reasonable salary.

"I'm looking for pitching," Ryan said. "So the dollars that we would set aside for free agency, we're looking more toward pitching."

Plouffe rated as one of the worst defensive third basemen in baseball last season according to just about every metric and measurement. But for a six-week stretch prior to the All-Star break, he was perhaps the hottest hitter in either league, batting .295/.346/.711 with 18 home runs and eight doubles.

A thumb injury sidelined him for three weeks after the break, and when he came back he wasn't anywhere near the same player.

"I keep looking back at what he looked like before and after his injury. But he has to realize he has to play both sides of the game. I think he's capable. It's his turn. We gave him the job when we dealt (Danny) Valencia and he did OK there for about four or five weeks I suppose. And as soon as he had that injury things started to disintegrate. So we're looking for competition."

Ryan has given very little consideration to moving Plouffe to a new position or a utility role. Plouffe has already bounced around from shortstop to outfield to third base over the past calendar year.

"I like to think he's a third baseman," Ryan said. "We've bounced him around pretty good. But if somehow things change drastically or someone falls in our lap, I'll probably be eating my words to Plouffe again. So we'll try to get the best team we can get."

Hendriks went under knife

Ryan revealed Monday that right-hander Liam Hendriks underwent minor elbow surgery earlier this offseason -- an operation that will keep him from competing for Australia in the World Baseball Classic.

"He had a scope about a month ago," Ryan said. "We don't want to rush him. It wasn't anything major, but he had a scope, so he chip or two taken out of his elbow. So I don't want to rush him back. ...

"He'll be ready, certainly, in spring training. He and (Nick) Blackburn had them done about a week apart from each other."

After being named Twins minor league pitcher of the year for 2011, Hendriks struggled mightily in the big leagues last year, posting a 5.59 ERA with 17 home runs allowed in only 85 1/3 innings.

Hendriks is currently rehabbing in Fort Myers. He'll likely be in the mix for the Twins' fifth rotation slot.

Twins likely to select someone in Rule-5 draft

The Twins have the fourth pick in Thursday's Rule-5 draft, and Ryan said it's almost a certainty they will select someone.

"We went through that thoroughly (Sunday) night, and I suspect we will. We're picking fourth. Have you ever seen us pass that thing up? I don't think we're going to probably pass on that opportunity at No. 4. It's a pretty good gamble."

Some are speculating this year's Rule-5 draft has more available talent than in the previous few years.

The Twins' most notable Rule-5 draft picks over the past two decades are Shane Mack, Johan Santana and Scott Diamond.

Interest in Meyer went back to '11 draft

Ryan said the Twins' interest in 22-year-old right-hander Alex Meyer, acquired last week for Denard Span, goes back to the 2011 draft where Meyer was selected with the 23rd overall pick by the Washington Nationals.

The Twins sent no fewer than eight scouts to watch Meyer at various points leading up to the draft, and they expressed interest once again before this year's trade deadline.

"We had interest in him back then," Ryan said. "They just didn't want to give him up. Denard's name was in the paper quite a bit over the last probably two years especially, and with Washington specifically. For us to match up, we had a certain area that we had a desire to acquire, and (Meyer) happened to be one of those guys, and they wouldn't give him up."

The biggest downfall to the deal is the uncertainty that comes with a highly-touted prospect who hasn't pitched above Single-A -- especially one who was acquired for an established centerfielder and leadoff hitter.

That said, Ryan does have a history of plucking guys from Single-A.

"You'd like to have a guy that's got a little bit more seasoning than that, but we got (Alexi) Casilla in A-ball, we got (Jason) Bartlett in A-ball, we got (David) Ortiz in A-ball, Joe Mays in A-ball... (Cristian) Guzman in A-ball. ...

"We've got a little bit of a history, not afraid to do it. ... It's not like it can't be done. It's not the ideal way to go about a trade, there's no doubt. You'd rather have a guy real close, if not there."

Meyer pitched well at both levels of Single-A last season, and it's likely he'll begin the season at Double-A New Britain, but Ryan wouldn't commit to that yet.

"I'm not even going to say because I don't know," Ryan said. "Get him down there and see what he looks like and see if he can stay healthy, see if he can slow the ball down on a consistent basic. Can he do all those things, then obviously he can be on a quicker path. If he can't then you have to take step back and take your time."

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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