The crazy thing about the whole Miguel Sano Tommy John surgery situation - other than that, well, an infield prospect is having Tommy John - is the fact that if there were an infielder on the roster that would be likely to have the procedure, it would be Trevor Plouffe..
It's easy to forget that Plouffe was once considered to be a pitching prospect before he signed with the Twins in 2004. He went 13-1 with a 0.71 ERA during his senior year at Crespi Carmelite high school in Encino, Calif. and had he gone to the University of Southern California, Plouffe would have pitched and played an everyday position in college. "(USC coach) Mike Gillespie and I talked about me playing shortstop and then coming in to close games," Plouffe told Seth Stohs, now a blogger at Twins Daily, in 2006.
There was a legitimate question as to whether or not Plouffe would pitch in the majors. In an article about whether or not Plouffe would decide to play at USC, a school he had grown up rooting for, or go pro, Eric Sondheimertold readers to take a step back and ponder what position Plouffe would play: "First, everyone must solve a pressing question: Is Plouffe a pitcher or a shortstop?" he wrote in 2004. "That provokes sharp debate and genuine disagreement among well-respected scouts."
Sondheimer was not writing for The Onion; he was writing for the Los Angeles Times. "The pro guys are really split because he is a prospect as a shortstop and pitcher," Gillespie told the Times. "I’m a shortstop who pitches," Plouffe said at the time. "Ultimately, it’s up to whomever lets you play."
Well, the Twins drafted him at No. 20 overall that year, offered him $1.5 million to sign and Plouffe went pro. "The decision to sign was very easy," he told Stohs. "You can’t pass up a chance to play pro ball with an organization like the Twins."
But Plouffe became neither a shortstop nor a pitcher. When he got called up as a 24-year-oldin 2010, he split time between short and second and as a designated hitter. By 2011 the team had tried him as a corner outfielder and at first base. The next year he beat out Danny Valencia at third base while hitting .235/.301/.455 with 24 home runs.
On Opening Day, Plouffe will have played every position except center field, catcher and... pitcher.
The point of writing this is not to suggest that Plouffe should have been developed as a pitcher. The point is that it wasn't Tommy John that forced Plouffe from the mound to the field a la Rick Ankiel. Rather, it's a blue-chip third base product that is having the procedure and Plouffe is the one that is going to benefit from another year at the hot corner.
There has been plenty of moaning and groaning among Twins fans hoping to see Sano who, along with Byron Buxton, is supposed to turn Minnesota around after three straight 90-loss seasons: Out with the old, in with the new. Except that Plouffe really isn't that old and should be capable of having a big season this year. He is in the middle of his prime and showed signs of progression last year before a calf injury and concussion slowed him down.
He was beginning to hit home runs to opposite field and with runners on base - something he did not do during his breakout 2012 campaign - and raised his batting average to .254.
If Plouffe can hit .260 to .280 with 25-plus homers, it's hard not to see him as an asset, even if his fielding is decidedly middle-of-the-pack compared to the rest of the league. He hit for power against righties (12 home runs) and average against lefties (.300), but hit only two home runs against lefties and .240 against righties while also continuing to show power to opposite field and produce with runners on base.
This really shouldn't be too far-fetched. Plouffe hit .244/.300/.430 in Triple-A in 2010, right before he got called up for his major league debut, then hit .313/.384/.635 in 2011, essentially forcing the Twins to bring him up again and find a spot for him on the field. The improvement was astronomical: Plouffe had never hit above .262, save for his first season in rookie ball, and suddenly was crushing the ball.
Babe Plouffe, as baseball nuts around the Twin Cities jokingly called him, had adjusted his batting stance and his swing and changed him from a ground-ball hitter to a fly-ball hitter. Still, the increase in production befuddled some of baseball's brightest minds. "Could anyone have predicted this?" asked SB Nation’s Rob Neyer. "Well, the Twins must have predicted something. Otherwise they wouldn't have drafted Plouffe in the first place, or stuck with him through all those seasons of minor-league mediocrity."
Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports was even more critical about the Twins' development of Plouffe. "By promoting him so aggressively in the face of mediocre performances the Twins put Plouffe in an odd situation developmentally. He was a former first-round pick one step from the big leagues at age 22, yet he'd never actually shown anything to suggest that he was a top prospect," he wrote. "In short, he looked like a bust."
It's the Twins who chose to select him in the first round and give him $1.5 million to sign with them. It's the Twins who decided to promote him to Triple-A at age 22 despite the fact that he had never hit above .280 or 20 home runs at any level except in his rookie season. It's the Twins who turned him into a fly ball hitter and moved him all over the field.
Some of these moves have worked out and some haven't.
Look at Plouffe now: He's got the undistinguished honor of not being Miguel Sano. Some have written him off as a placeholder that they have no desire seeing once the Dominican blue-chipper arrives along and other big-name prospects hit their stride, but the Twins are making difficult decisions with all of their prospects right now. Players like Alex Meyer (No. 23, 2011), Kyle Gibson (No. 22, 2009)and Aaron Hicks (No. 14, 2008) are all supposed to develop into stars and supplement Buxton and Sano and bring a contending team back to the Twin Cities.
But if Trevor Plouffe does not pan out, what's to say that the others will?
Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.