Minors report: Plouffe not a concern

Minors report: Plouffe not a concern

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There's a lot of pressure placed upon a first-round draft pick, and shortstop Trevor Plouffe knows that all too well.

A first-round selection by the Twins in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, Plouffe has been the subject of quite a bit of attention in baseball circles -- not all of that attention has been positive.

Plouffe has had a bit of a rough start to his career. From the organization-high 35 errors he committed in his first full season at Class A Beloit in '05 to his continuing struggles at the plate, the 20-year-old has left many questions unanswered with regard to his potential.

The biggest concern over Plouffe may be his offense. The shortstop hit .283 in his first season at Class A Elizabethton, yet struggled mightily for Beloit when he hit just .223. But despite the fact that Plouffe got off to a rough start once again in '06, when he hit just .226 through July for Class A Fort Myers, he finally got things turned around with a .304 average in August.

"You can't hit in bad luck all year," Twins farm director Jim Rantz said, "but I think he hit the ball pretty good, just hit it right at them a lot of times. I just don't think he had any luck."

Injuries at Spring Training camp resulted in a shortage of infielders, allowing Plouffe to get some extra time up at the Major League camp this year. And from what the Twins saw, there's reason to believe the concerns about Plouffe are unfounded.

"I honestly believe he can hit," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's one of those things where maybe he chases a little too much. I think the higher he goes in baseball and the more they throw the ball around the plate, he's going to be a better hitter. When he comes up here, he's put good swings on the ball."

Gardenhire mused that often in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues, pitchers struggle to keep the ball around the plate. And for a player like Plouffe, who chases pitches often, it can lead to some misleading numbers. Moving up into the higher ranks is something that could help reduce that tendency for Plouffe to chase. With a lack of infield depth in the organization, the chance for Plouffe to move up to Double-A New Britain this year seems very likely. And those in the organization believe that good things are bound to happen for him.

"He's due to have a really good offensive year here in the next year or two, I think," Gardenhire said.

On the move: At this time last year, the Twins were very excited about third baseman David Winfree's future.

The Twins' Minor League Player of the Year in '05, Winfree had opened eyes with his play that season for Class A Beloit when he hit .294 with 101 RBIs in 135 games.

But things started off bad for Winfree in '06 after he was disabled with a right thumb contusion in April. The infielder then left Fort Myers in mid-May for nearly a month and a half as he went on a self-discovery trip back home in Virginia.

Once Winfree returned to the club at the start of July, he still managed to hit .275 in 221 at-bats for Class A Fort Myers, including 13 home runs. And the hope now is that he's ready to refocus his life on baseball.

"That's a tough thing to do here during the summer," Rantz said of the 13 homers. "He was trying to catch up all year, and I think he wound up doing alright. Still, he lost some valuable development time, so we're hoping for a big year from him this season."

Names in the game: Hall of Famers aren't a rarity in Twins camp when you consider that both Rod Carew and Paul Molitor help out with hitting, but perhaps the most beloved Hall of Famer to Twins fans is Harmon Killebrew. The former Twins slugger spent the last week at camp working with a few players. Killebrew was planning to spend one more day helping out in Minor League camp Monday.

They're No. 1: Denard Span may not have earned a roster spot this season, but the Twins' first-round pick in the '02 First-Year Player Draft did enough this spring to warrant the club's vote of confidence. Should anything happen to Torii Hunter, Span will now be considered the club's first option to take over the spot.

Class of '06: The Twins' top four draft picks in '06, outfielder Chris Parmlee, outfielder Joe Benson, left-handed pitcher Tyler Robertson and first baseman Whitney Robbins, are all expected to start the year at Class A Beloit,

Stat machine: Alexi Casilla is hitting .286 through 17 games this spring. ... After struggling to hit for most of the spring, Garrett Jones has raised his average to .179. That included a 4-for-5 performance with a two-run homer against Baltimore earlier this week. ... Left-hander Jason Miller gave up two runs over 6 2/3 innings before being sent down Sunday.

What they're saying: "He is young. People put so much stock that he's been playing two or three years, but he's just a kid. I think he's very talented and has a good chance of being a good player. -- Gardenhire, on Plouffe

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.