By Dave Campbell
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Trevor Plouffe's spot at third base for the Minnesota Twins is tenuous at best, with one of the best prospects in baseball close behind him.
Rather than resenting the ascension of Miguel Sano, Plouffe has befriended the big-swinging Dominican. For now, the former first-round draft pick still has a regular spot in the lineup. Worrying about the impending takeover would be a waste of time.
"I want to help the team win. That's all I really care about. Miguel is a great player, and if he comes up and helps our team, we want him," Plouffe said last weekend at the team's annual fan festival. "We just want to win. So that's my main thing. If Sano's going to come up and help us, let's go."
After three straight seasons averaging 97 losses, everyone with the Twins is restless for a turnaround. So if Plouffe soon gets bumped into the outfield or a utility role to make room for Sano, well, being a part of an improving roster is better than playing every day for a perpetually losing team.
"That's just out of my control. I just want to work hard and just help the team in any way. I really, really, really do feel that way," Plouffe said.
Plouffe and Sano have taken to calling each other "primo," which means cousin in Sano's native Spanish. As for Sano's English? That has improved to the point where he can effectively participate in question-and-answer sessions with reporters, as he did at Target Field during TwinsFest.
"I play third for my life," Sano said. "Whole life."
His fielding is still a work in progress. He committed a combined 23 errors last season at Class A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain. But his ability and potential at the plate -- think two-time American League Most Valuable Player award winner Miguel Cabrera -- is the kind of head-turning, lineup-lifting production every team craves at a corner position like third base.
Sano struggled with breaking balls in his first taste of Double-A pitching last summer, finishing with a .236 batting average and 81 strikeouts in 67 games with New Britain. But he still posted a hefty .915 on-base-plus-slugging percentage there in the Eastern League, after crushing the Florida State League for Fort Myers. His full-season numbers were 70 extra-base hits, 35 home runs, 103 RBIs and 65 walks in 123 games.
The 20-year-old will be in camp later this month when spring training begins, eager to make his mark and soon reach the majors. With a smile, Sano spoke boldly of drawing 120 or even 150 walks.
And as for home runs?
"I hit 45 this year. More games. Maybe 55. You never know," he said.
Plouffe's best value for the Twins is power, too.
A high school shortstop from Southern California in 2004 when the Twins took him with the 20th overall selection, Plouffe has played everywhere over the last two seasons except pitcher, catcher and center field. He finally found a home at third base after Danny Valencia faltered, was sent down and traded away.
Plouffe made 13 errors last year, and his glove work has been rough at times. After hitting 24 home runs in 422 at-bats in 2012, Plouffe's power fell off last season while fighting soreness in his wrist. He hit a career-high .254 but only went deep 14 times in 477 at-bats with just 52 RBIs.
So after signing a one-year contract for $2.35 million to avoid salary arbitration, Plouffe has been carrying that familiarly optimistic spring mix of health, happiness and hunger to prove his worth.
"I just want to stay healthy so I can have my first and second half kind of line up and just be more consistent throughout the year," he said, adding: "It's a big year for me to step up and drive in some runs and be a big part of the offense."