Friday, June 3, 2011

Greg Gagne and Trevor Plouffe

The optimistic projection for Trevor Plouffe had him developing into a Greg Gagne-type shortstop.

Greg Gagne's 1987 card.
He would go on to drive
in the winning run in Game
7 of the World Series that year.

There are points of similarity. Both were/are angular shortstops, so slender as to appear taller in their pinstriped uniforms than they really are. (Gagne was listed as 5-11, 185 pounds; Plouffe at 6-2, 200.) As batters, both were/are low-average hitters who draw relatively few walks but with enough power to hit 10 or so home runs a year. Both sport(ed) powerful throwing arms (when Plouffe was in high school, some scouts liked him more as a pitcher than as a shortstop).

There the similarities end. Plouffe, in his brief opportunity to be the Twins regular shortstop, proved to be an erratic thrower and uncertain fielder. Neither was a surprise to those who saw him during spring training. Gagne, on the other hand, was blessed with both an accurate arm and almost perfect judgment.

Bill James on Gagne:

He had wonderful positioning at shortstop, sure hands, excellent arm with a slingshot motion and the best judgment I ever saw in a shortstop. If he thought he could make a play at second, he'd make the play at second, and he just never seemed to misjudge those kind of things. He was aggressive without making mistakes.

I said Gagne was "blessed" with those skills, but that is probably the wrong verb,. It describes the polished talent. Gagne doubtless had to work with great diligence to develop those skills -- to master the body control that allowed him to field grounders cleanly and rapidly release a powerful, accurate throw, to hone the awareness that led to executing the right play without hesitation. It was not a given that Gagne would be a major-league shortstop; as late as 1984, he had more playing time at third base with the Twins Triple-A team than at short.

The next year, at age 23, he split playing time in the majors at short with Ron Washington and Roy Smalley; he took over the regular job in '86, and held it through 1992, through two World Series runs. Gagne played 369 minor league games at shortstop to prepare for his 14-season major league career.

Plouffe, age 24, already has almost 300 more minor league games at short than Gagne did, and with his demotion Thursday is destined for more. 

Plouffe perhaps remains young enough to develop, but if 667 games at short aren't enough to mold him into a usable major league shortstop, I don't know how many it will take. 

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