(Eds: Updates with quotes, details. With AP Photos.)
By DAVID DORSEY
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - Trevor Plouffe was drafted as a shortstop and spent most of his minor league time there. There were stints at first base and second base, too, and he started last season primarily as a right fielder with the Minnesota Twins.
Finally, in late May, Plouffe settled in at third base, an on-the-fly learning process that provided an opportunity to find a home in the field. His ability to establish himself as a reliable regular in the majors will hinge largely on how well he plays this season, and the Twins are hoping that his narrowed focus will be the catalyst for more improvement.
"I feel good," Plouffe said. "I just want to contribute. It's fun for me to know where I'm going to be playing, coming in to spring, knowing I'm going to be on the team."
With 24 home runs in 422 at-bats in 2012, Plouffe's power was a welcome surprise for the Twins. But he batted just .235 while fighting a thumb injury during the second half of the season and has a lot to prove at the plate - and in the field.
"There's always pressure. You want to be a good defender. It's something I've been working on," said Plouffe, the 20th overall pick in 2004. "I've got to get used to the first step and the corner and the angles."
General manager Terry Ryan said he considered signing a free agent third baseman during the offseason, but he ultimately decided Plouffe was ready.
"He had a couple of successful months, and he hit the ball hard," Ryan said. "He has played enough shortstop. Those guys are athletic enough to make that move."
Plouffe made 17 errors at third base last season. Manager Ron Gardenhire said he expects that number to be reduced now that Plouffe can focus full-time on third.
"He's doing fine," Gardenhire said. "I know Plouffie worked his butt off out there trying to get better. That's half the battle. You've got a guy willing to go out and do extra work and try a lot of different things. The advantage he has now is he's the third baseman. It's not like he's got to take ground balls in left field. He's got one focus, and that's playing third and getting hits."
Plouffe earned the chance for a regular role, Gardenhire said, with the power he showed as a hitter.
"Putting the ball in the seats as many times as he did, no matter how many games he played, that's pretty good. ... It's up to him how he plays and how long he plays," Gardenhire said.
Middle infielder Jamey Carroll, who has logged 269 career games at third base, said he thought Plouffe fared well last season when forced to learn on the job. Danny Valencia, now with Baltimore, was the regular third baseman until losing his spot in the lineup that Plouffe snagged.
Valencia was traded to Boston for a minor league pitcher in August, batting .198 at the time. The Twins haven't been settled at the hot corner since Corey Koskie left after the 2004 season.
"It's not easy to do," Carroll said of Plouffe's defensive switch. "He put a lot of work into it. He's taking it seriously. He should become very comfortable at it."
Notes: LHP Scott Diamond said he'll be cutting it close to be ready for opening day. He is recovering from offseason surgery to remove a bone spur and chips from his throwing elbow. Diamond hasn't yet been cleared to pitch in an exhibition game. ... RHP Kevin Correia will start the Grapefruit League opener on Saturday in Sarasota, Fla., against Baltimore.