In 2004, the Pirates drafted Neil Walker in the 1st round of the draft. He had a cup of coffee in the majors in 2009 and after his full debut in 2010, he has been a fixture in the lineup ever since.
In that same 2004 draft, the Minnesota Twins took Trevor Plouffe with the 20th pick of the 1st round. For years, I would observe Plouffe’s slow and methodical progression through the Twins’ system and hear the reports that he wasn’t a true shortstop and would probably be (at best) a utility player.
Plouffe got a taste of the majors in 2010, but it was only 44 plate appearances. Plouffe got into 81 games in 2011 and had a non-memorable line of .238/.305/.392 (697 OPS). It seemed as if he was fulfilling his perceived destiny of a utility guy. The 2012 season started off the same for Plouffe and on May 31st, Plouffe was sporting a line of .163/.261/.347 (608 OPS).
And then June happened.
In June, Plouffe experimented with a change in his batting stance and it changed him from a ground ball hitter to a fly ball hitter. This subtle change made Plouffe go Fukushima-hot so far in June. We’re not even close to being done with June and Plouffe has hit 9 home runs already, as part of his .389/.459/.963 (slugging, not OPS…that’s 1422) triple slash line.
Is Plouffe the next Jose Bautista with just a subtle change unlocking a huge reservoir of untapped power? Or is he just another in a long line of a player going white hot for a month before the league figures him out again? I’m not sure, but I’m sure the miserable Twins hope that this sticks for a while with Plouffe.
Whether Plouffe is a fluke or not, it just goes to show that development of a player is not linear and that sometimes you really have to stick with a guy if you believe in him. Also it shows that if a player is desperate and realizes he may be in danger of leaving the Majors (like Bautista), he’ll make some tweaks to his approach that he may not have been willing to make before.