Plouffe Plays His Way Out Of Twins' Utility Picture





MINNEAPOLIS—Shortstop Trevor Plouffe spent the winter planning to surprise the Twins during spring training, and he did. Just not the way he hoped.

Minnesota's top pick at 20th overall in 2004, Plouffe was one of three strong candidates for the utility infield job vacated when Nick Punto signed with the Cardinals. Those who knew Plouffe, who played high school ball in Encino, Calif., believed his time may have come.

"He really prepared for it. He had a great offseason, really got his body in shape and worked hard to be ready," senior vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff said. "He got a taste of it last year (appearing in 22 games for the Twins) and was determined to get back. And then he just didn't perform. I'm sure it was disappointing."

The 24-year Plouffe batted just 7-for-34 (.206) in 16 spring training games, a continuation of his .146/.143/.317 struggle in Minnesota a year ago. Worse, Plouffe's strong arm betrayed him. He committed six errors, most on the team, and was sent to minor league camp two weeks before Opening Day.

Matt Tolbert eventually won the 25th spot on the roster.

"He's fighting himself," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters after informing Plouffe that he would spend time with Triple-A Rochester for the fourth straight year. "Just like in hitting, you go through times when your confidence is down defensively. You can see it with him."

Plouffe already had collected 1,082 at-bats with the Red Wings heading into 2011, batting just .253/.303/.419. But the Twins have not lost faith.

"We don't have any less belief in him. He's just got to catch and throw consistently," Radcliff said. "But we still see him as a guy who can develop some pop. He's still a young guy, and he'll play in the big leagues this year, in my opinion."

TWIN KILLINGS

• The Twins retained major league Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond, a lefthander who pitched only six spring innings due to a cut on his left thumb, in a trade with the Braves. Minnesota surrendered hard-throwing righthanded reliever Billy Bullock, a second-round pick in 2009. Bullock struck out 105 batters in 74 innings last year.

• Outfielder Angel Morales opened the season on the high Class A Fort Myers disabled list after tearing a ligament in his right elbow. The Twins hope that rest will heal the injury, but Tommy John surgery had not been ruled out.