Trevor Plouffe needs to send Danny Valencia a thank-you card—perhaps some flowers or a box of chocolates as well.
Two years ago, Valencia broke into the Twins' starting lineup at midseason. He finished with a .311 batting average and seven home runs in 85 games.
The Twins had finally found a long-term solution at third base, something they had been trying to do since the departure of Corey Koskie following the 2004 season.
Oh, how fleeting success can be. If not for the struggles that Valencia had to open the season, causing his demotion to Rochester, Plouffe might still be the Twins' utility player, coming off the bench for an occasional start at one of five positions.
On Friday, in the opener of a three-game series against the Brewers, Plouffe went 2-for-4, hitting two more home runs. That gives him 14 on the season to lead the Twins.
Over the last 30 days, no one has hit more home runs than Plouffe, leading the majors with 12. The White Sox' Adam Dunn is second with 11, followed by Jose Bautista and Carlos Gonzalez with 10.
After a slow start to the season when he was coming off the bench, Plouffe was struggling to hit his weight. During his power surge, he is hitting .321, raising his season average to .240.
Manager Ron Gardenhire and the Twins staff obviously saw something in Plouffe to stick with him.
Instead of being the Twins' utility player, he has entrenched himself as the third baseman, hitting home runs at a Jim Thome pace.
Thome, who is eighth all-time with 607 career home runs, has averaged 13.7 at-bats per home run over 22 seasons. While in Minnesota, he hit 37, jacking them at a rate of one every 13 at-bats.
Plouffe is averaging a home run every 10.4 at-bats for the season.
Dunn, who leads the majors with 23 home runs, is averaging one every 9.7 at-bats, and the Rangers' Josh Hamilton, who is having an MVP-type season, averages one every 10.6 at-bats. That's pretty good company to be associated with this season.
Even though Plouffe only has 146 at-bats this season and is unlikely to continue to hit at such a pace, that won't stop us from projecting how many home runs he might hit for the season.
Plouffe has played in 44 of 63 games this season—only 70 percent of the Twins' games. This percentage will increase with his recent success and insertion into the starting lineup.
In those games, he has averaged 3.3 at-bats. Projecting that Plouffe will play in at least 82 of the Twins' final 99 games this season, that would give him 126 games played for the season with 415 at-bats. At his current pace, that projects to approximately 40 home runs on the season.
Only two players in the franchise history of the Minnesota Twins/Washington Senators have hit at least 40 home runs in a season. Harmon Killebrew, who owns nine of the top 10 single-season marks for home runs in Minnesota, did it seven times. In the other two seasons, he fell just short, hitting 39 home runs.
The last time Killebrew hit at least 40 home runs was in 1970, when he led the Twins with 41.
It is an extreme stretch, and unfair to Plouffe, to compare him to Killebrew.
By the time Killebrew was 26, the same age as Plouffe this season, he was in his ninth major-league season and on his way to leading the league in home runs with his third 40-plus season in 1962.
Plouffe hasn't even completed his first season as a starter, but if he can continue to produce at the plate, he might finally be the player the Twins have been looking for to take over third base.
Perhaps he could send Valencia an autographed baseball, thanking him for the opportunity to be the everyday third baseman and the chance to make history for the Twins.
Then again, with only 11 Twins ever to hit at least 30 homers in a season, the odds are stacked against Plouffe; after all, he's only played 23 games at third base.
But none of that will stop us from dreaming of the chance for a 40-home run season.
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