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Plouffe squarely focused on immediate future

Third baseman embracing Sano while trying to help Twins compete

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Trevor Plouffe has heard all about top prospect Miguel Sano, who is waiting in the wings as the Twins' third baseman of the future.

But instead of being hostile toward a player who is looking to unseat him at third base, Plouffe has befriended Sano and offered him pointers on what it takes to be a big leaguer. Plouffe even calls Sano, "primo," which means cousin in Spanish.

So Plouffe doesn't worry about Sano's timeline to the Majors, as he's much more concerned with improving at third base and making it a difficult decision for the Twins once Sano is ready for the big leagues.

"I'm not really concerned with that," Plouffe said. "I want to help the team win. That's all I really care about. Miguel is a great player, and if he comes up and helps our team, we want him. We want anyone who can help the team."

Plouffe, 27, knows this is a big season for him, as he struggled to replicate his power numbers from 2012 in '13. Plouffe hit 24 homers in just 119 games in '12 but hit just 14 in 129 games last year. He improved his batting average from .235 to .254 but also drove in three fewer runs and saw his slugging percentage dip by more than 60 points.

So he's made it a point to work on his hitting this offseason, even making trips to see hitting coach Tom Brunansky, as they both live in Southern California in the offseason. He also believes being healthy will be the key, as he missed time with a concussion and a wrist injury last year.

But his wrist is fully healed now after rehabbing it for the first few months of the offseason, and he thinks he can be more consistent this season if he can stay healthy.

"I just want to drive in more runs," said Plouffe, who hit .208 with runners in scoring position last year. "That's my role in the lineup, to be a run producer. I haven't been able to do that. [Hitting with] runners in scoring position is something I need to work on. I talked to Bruno, and that's something that we're going to keep working on. I think that's the most important thing to me: being able to score runs and drive in runs."

Plouffe, who spends his offseason working out at Pepperdine University in Malibu, has also continued to work on improving his defense. Last year was his first full season as a third baseman, as the natural shortstop started the '12 season in the outfield before taking over at third base for Danny Valencia.

Plouffe's defense was average to below average according to advanced defensive metrics, but Plouffe said he's much more comfortable there, which should help next season.

"It's something I'll continue to work on," Plouffe said. "That's something that I'll probably have to do throughout my career. Moving around all those positions you never really get in a good routine. I kind of started that, and now I'm at third base and I'm able to know what I have to do. There's been a little bit of a learning curve, but I think I'm getting better and better."

Plouffe was also excited the Twins added fellow Southern California natives Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to the rotation this offseason and believes the Twins can be an improved team in '14.

But he said it'll also be on the offense to produce, especially considering the Twins scored the third-fewest runs in the American League last year. With a healthy Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham in the lineup, Plouffe thinks a turnaround is possible.

"Our offense wasn't great last year," Plouffe said. "But I think moving Joe to first is going to help. He's going to be in the lineup every day. Willingham's healthy. I feel better. It's a big year for me to step up and drive in some runs and be a big part of the offense."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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