FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Minnesota Twins had issues with health at first base and catcher. They also lost a pair of right fielders in free agency.
Now, the Twins are hoping veteran Ryan Doumit can fill in at any of those positions whenever they need him. Minnesota signed the versatile Doumit to a one-year contract this offseason, and he’s now in his first spring training with his new club.
But it’s not the first time Doumit has been around the Twins’ spring training facility, Lee County Sports Complex. Doumit’s close friend from Moses Lake (Wash.) High School, B.J. Garbe, was the Twins’ first-round pick (fifth overall) in the 1999 amateur draft. The Pirates drafted Doumit in the second round that same year.
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For three offseasons, Doumit and Garbe spent time down in Fort Myers, working out at Hammond Stadium. During those winters, Doumit got to know two of the current Twins players he’ll be backing up in catcher Joe Mauer and first baseman Justin Morneau. Mauer was the No. 1 overall pick in 2001, while Morneau was drafted one round after Doumit in 1999.
Even back then, Doumit had admired the Twins organization from afar. That helped make his decision for him when he hit free agency this winter.
“I got to see how this organization is run. I got a chance to meet some of the guys and work out for about three years running,” Doumit said. “The familiarity of it, the chance to come back, it was an easy decision for me.”
Prior to signing with the Twins, Doumit spent his entire seven-year major league career with Pittsburgh. The Pirates’ spring training home is in Bradenton, 90 miles north of Fort Myers. Over the last several springs, Doumit has had plenty of chances to face Minnesota.
“Being in Bradenton the last however many years, it seems like we played the Twins every other game in spring training. I’ve always liked the way they’ve gone about their business,” Doumit said. “I’ve always liked the way that they play the game. They’re a classy organization, a winning organization.”
Doumit didn’t play Thursday against his former team when the Pirates came to Hammond Stadium. In eight Grapefruit League games this spring, the career .271 hitter is just 3-for-16 with a double and an RBI. But he’s already moved around the diamond plenty, catching a handful of games, getting several at-bats as the designated hitter and even spending a game in left field — something he’s never done in his professional career.
Doumit has spent the most time (413 games) at catcher, with 58 games in right field and 32 at first base.
“I’m a natural catcher by trade,” Doumit said. “But I have played my fair share of outfield. That’s probably my second-most comfortable position. I think the more I play out there, the more comfortable I’ll be. I’m up for it.”
There’s a good chance Minnesota could head north at the end of camp with three catchers on its roster: Doumit, Mauer and backup Drew Butera. Given Doumit’s versatility, Mauer’s injury concerns from last year and Butera’s lack of offense — he batted just .167 in 93 games last year with the Twins — having three catchers is likely for the Twins.
“I’m going to use Doumit, so it’s almost a given but not totally a given,” Gardenhire said of carrying three catchers. “Because I’m going to use him a lot in the lineup. I’m counting on him in the lineup, along with Joe. So when you play both catchers, I’m trying to see if there’s any way around keeping three, but it’s really hard for me to do that.”
Defensively, Doumit threw out 28 percent of potential base stealers last year but just 12 percent in 2010 with the Pirates. Already this spring, though, Doumit showed off his arm in a game earlier this week against Tampa Bay. He threw out Matt Joyce twice as Joyce tried to steal second base in the second and fourth innings.
“Doumit, you saw, he’s got a good arm, a really good arm,” Gardenhire said. “So we’re excited. I think he was pumped up about it, made some really nice throws.”
Added starter Carl Pavano, who was on the mound for the Twins during that game: “Doumit? What a great arm, huh? . . . He threw that ball really well.”
Doumit hasn’t caught all of the Twins’ starters yet, but he continues to get adjusted to the new pitching staff. He’s also getting used to wearing a different uniform for the first time in his career.
So far, that’s been the easy part.
“It’s been as smooth a transition as I could have possibly expected,” Doumit said. “I felt like I was a member of this team after the first day.”