Justin Morneau is the Minnesota Twins' first baseman. The problem is over the past two seasons he only played 133 games at first—that's only 10 more games than he played at the position in all of 2009.
Between 2006 and 2008, Morneau was an iron man for the Twins. Over those three seasons he averaged 149.7 games at first, and in 2008 he appeared in all 163 games the team played.
Then came that fateful day in Toronto—July 7th, 2010.
The play was a routine slide into second base to break up a double play when Morneau took a knee to the head. He came out of the game and Michael Cuddyer would replace him at first base. He did not play again that season and has been struggling since to return to the form that had his name in consideration for a second American League MVP.
At the time he was leading the Twins with a .345 average, 18 home runs and 56 RBIs.
In a report from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Morneau is feeling better than he has in quite some time. The problem is the results are not yet showing up in the box score. This spring he has the second most at-bats for the Twins with 37 through Friday, March 23rd. The problem is he is only hitting .108 with four hits in 12 games.
Manager Ron Gardenhire is not planning on playing Morneau at first over the remaining Grapefruit League schedule, opting to use the opportunity to assess what other options he has in case Morneau is unable to go come opening day.
Gardenhire's main option over the last two seasons to replace Morneau has been Cuddyer, who is now with the Colorado Rockies.
All is not lost. The Twins have plenty of options if needed, some that could even provide a boost to their lineup.
Here are the top five options.
The Twins are high on Trevor Plouffe, so high in fact, that after committing 11 errors at shortstop last season, they moved him to the outfield—a position he had only played seven games over eight minor-league seasons in the Twins organization.
The move to first base from the outfield is about as big a stretch for Plouffe, who played one inning at first last season. He could benefit greatly by not having to throw the ball to first, the source of many of his errors at short.
Plouffe has the potential to hit 20 home runs a year if he can find a position at the major league level. While not that impressive for most major league teams, it would be significant for the Twins.
The Twins' free-agent signing of Ryan Doumit was made to add some depth to the roster defensively after losing Cuddyer to the Rockies.
Signed mainly to be the everyday designated hitter, the plan would be to use him occasionally at catcher.
In seven seasons with the Pirates, Doumit played mainly catcher, but he has also played 60 games in the outfield and 35 games at first base. His most extensive action at first was in 2006 when he played 28 games there.
On Friday against the Yankees, Doumit saw his first action of the spring at first base.
Luke Hughes is out of options and this might be his last chance to make the Twins.
Last season he saw his most extensive action playing three positions over 96 games, including 36 at first base.
Hughes made a splash in his major league debut by hitting a home run in his first at-bat on April 28th, 2010 against the Tigers.
Like Plouffe, he has the potential to bring some power to the Twins lineup, but he will need to improve his .223 batting average from last season.
When one player makes up over 20 percent of your payroll, it only makes sense to protect your investment and find a way to maximize the return.
The Twins will pay Joe Mauer $23 million this season with a total team payroll around $100 million.
To keep him behind the plate where he has averaged only 133 games per season—excluding his rookie season when he played only 35 games and last season when he was limited to 82—is sub-optimizing Mauer's ability to contribute to the Twins.
A career .323 hitter, Mauer needs to be in the lineup at least 150 games per season.
A three-sport athlete in high school, who was also a highly recruited quarterback, he is talented enough to become an All-Star, Gold Glove first baseman.
The last time the Twins had this much hype over a potential power-hitting first baseman was back in 2003 when Justin Ernest George Morneau made his major league debut.
Morneau played in 40 games that season and hit four home runs in 106 at-bats.
Chris Parmelee hit that many in 76 at-bats last season playing in only 21 games.
Parmelee, who had never played above the Double-A level in six seasons with the Twins organization, has split time between the outfield, where he's played 286 games, and first base where he has 323 games under his belt.
This spring he is hitting .324 with two home runs in 34 at-bats in 13 games.
These are the kind of numbers the Twins could expect from Morneau when he was healthy, and the kind of production the team seriously needs to make people forget about the dismal 2011 season.
Even though there could be some growing pains with making the jump full time to the majors, the Twins have little to lose after a 99-loss season, and plenty to gain.