Twins’ Plouffe pushing for improvement in all facets of game

The 2014 season was the best of Trevor Plouffe's major-league career. The 28-year-old set career highs in games played (136), RBI (80), batting average (.258) and doubles (40).

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MINNEAPOLIS — About once a week this offseason, Trevor Plouffe would touch base with Paul Molitor. The former, Minnesota’s third baseman, often had plenty to discuss with the latter, his new manager.

The conversation sometimes revolved around Plouffe’s forearm, which was broken late in the season but is now fully healed. Other times, the two talked about the coaching staff, with Plouffe offering up opinions. And of course there was plenty of baseball discussion, with Molitor — a Hall of Famer — discussing some of the game’s finer points with his third baseman.

The relationship between Molitor and Plouffe dates back to before Plouffe debuted in the majors in 2010. Plouffe got to know Molitor when he was a roving minor-league instructor with the Twins before joining former manager Ron Gardenhire’s coaching staff last year. It’s clear that Plouffe is eager to play for his new manager in 2015.

"We’re all excited about it," Plouffe said Friday. "I think the one thing that I always like to say is the last four years weren’t Gardy’s fault at all. I think he was a great manager and we respect him. As soon as the organization decided to move on, I think we all wanted Paul. We’re lucky to have him as a manager. He’s a great baseball mind."

The 2014 season was easily the best of Plouffe’s relatively short major-league career. The 28-year-old set career highs in games played (136), RBI (80), batting average (.258) and doubles (40). His defense at third base also improved, too, in his third season there — and truly just his second full season — after switching from shortstop.

The strides that Plouffe made this past year impressed Molitor, who watched as the bench coach. Now Molitor will have a chance to help Plouffe’s game take the next step in 2015.

"I was pleased with how he played last year," Molitor said. "I think through a lot of hard work he developed a lot of confidence. I know he’s recovered from his injury very well and is excited for the upcoming season. And I think he has leadership skills, too."

Plouffe knows he still has work to do, and he’s well aware of who is on his heels, possibly fighting to take his job one day. That would be Miguel Sano, the Twins’ third base prospect who is viewed as one of the best minor leaguers in the game.

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Sano missed all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, meaning Plouffe didn’t have to worry about that potential distraction. Though Sano’s arrival to the majors is likely still a bit away — he could debut at some point this season — Plouffe insists he’s not focused on that.

"I’m in it to win. I want to win the AL Central," Plouffe said. "That’s our goal every year, to get to the playoffs. That’s all that matters to me. I know that if I work hard and help the team, that’s all that really matters."

Plouffe also received a vote of confidence from general manager Terry Ryan, who spoke Friday about the Twins’ third base spot and any potential competition this spring.

"We’ve got a prospect who’s behind a few, but Trevor Plouffe’s the guy that’s done the job at the major-league level," Ryan said. "So Sano’s going to have to come in and push him, that’s all."

Plouffe said Friday that he wants to improve in every facet of the game, even after seeing his numbers rise in 2014. He’d be wise to continue to absorb any and all information he can glean from Molitor, a Hall of Famer who finished his lengthy big-league career with 3,319 hits and 504 stolen bases.

There have already been instances in which Molitor’s knowledge of the game impressed Plouffe and other players. Now they’ll get to see that play out in a different role in 2015.

"I remember being in A-ball and him just talking about studying the game — while you’re playing in the game. It’s something that when you’re younger you don’t really think about," Plouffe said of Molitor. "He’d be watching a pitcher for one batter and he’d say, ‘I got his pitches.’ I think I would laugh at him and ask him, ‘What are you talking about?’ …

"He’s just a guy that can pick up those little nuances that a lot of people can’t. I don’t know how much of that he’s going to do as a manager. I think he’s got a lot of things to take care of. But just being able to tell us to study the game like that, I think that’s a big difference."

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