Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Two years ago when I was an intern for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, we used to have a little contest around the office.
For every home game, one of us was allowed to choose the "Taco Bell K-Man." If the Taco Bell K-Man (a player we selected from the other team's starting lineup) struck out at any point during the game, fans could use their ticket stubs to redeem a free taco.
If one of us picked the K-Man correctly, we'd get to keep picking until we got it wrong.
I don't remember all the K-men I selected but I do remember that whenever the Rochester Red Wings were in town, my pick was almost always free-swinging infielder Trevor Plouffe.
Plouffe won Syracuse fans a lot of free tacos that season but I think he's getting the last laugh now.
The 26-year-old still swings and misses a lot (he has struck out in over 21 percent of his at bats this season) but nowadays when he makes contact, there's a good chance that ball is leaving the yard.
Plouffe's career-high in home runs entering the 2012 season was eight. That's how many he's hit since June 4.
For the month, Plouffe has nine round-trippers, two more than any other hitter in baseball (Adam Dunn and Jose Bautista have both hit seven).
In his last 24 games, Plouffe has mashed 13 homers and 21 RBIs while maintaining a .305 batting average.
During that span, Plouffe has averaged one homer every 7.08 at bats. To put that into perspective, Mark McGwire homered once every 7.27 at bats the year he hit 70 homers.
Calling Plouffe's recent string of success a "hot streak" doesn't do it justice. Plouffe passed "hot" a long time ago.
In a seven-game stretch earlier in the month, Plouffe erupted for 13 hits in 28 at bats (.464) while tallying seven homers and 12 RBIs.
Most of Plouffe's homers have been no-doubters, too.
Look at the distance on some of Plouffe's blasts from the last month: 411 feet, 415, 397, 402, 399, 420, 432, 390. Those are moon shots.
Plouffe is currently tied with Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera for 10th in the American League in homers with 14 but that's not what amazes me. What's truly insane is that Cabrera, who makes $21 million per season, is making roughly 43 times more money than Plouffe is ($485,000 a year).
Talk about a bargain.
If I were a major league pitcher and I saw Plouffe's stats from the last month, I'd be running for my life right now.
Yet there is still a part of me that doubts Plouffe will be able to keep this up.
Maybe I just can't get past the image of Plouffe striking out to a chorus of cheers from taco-starved Syracuse fans.
Can Plouffe really be a star in this league?
Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg spent a lunch break down in the minor leagues. Plouffe was there for eight years and 833 games.
In those 833 games, he managed just 79 homers and a .258 batting average.
How can a guy who was so average in nearly a decade in the minors torture major league pitching the way Plouffe has this season? Matt Kemps don't just appear out of thin air.
Maybe comparing Plouffe to Harper and Kemp isn't fair but it's a little troubling that even after having the greatest offensive month of his career, Plouffe is still hitting only .243 for the season.
Could Plouffe's June stats be inflated by the fact that he has been facing inferior competition?
It's certainly possible.
During his recent tear, Plouffe has gone up against the Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Kansas City Royals and the Cleveland Indians. All four of those teams rank in the league's bottom ten in batting average against this season. So it's not like Plouffe is going up against Pedro Martinez and Nolan Ryan every night.
And what about his strange RBI totals? Plouffe is on pace to finish the year with 35 HRs and just 60 RBIs.
Have we ever seen a player hit that many home runs with so few RBIs? The only recent stat lines even close to that are Hanley Ramirez's weird 33 HR, 67 RBI year in 2008 and Chris Young's equally strange 32 HR, 68 RBI campaign in 2007.
None of those numbers are encouraging but I'm not counting Plouffe out just yet.
The Twins recently moved Plouffe up from the seventh spot in the order to sixth behind Justin Morneau so he should start to get more RBI opportunities as the season goes on.
Another thing working in Plouffe's favor is that the AL Central has been one of the league's most hitter-friendly divisions this year. Minnesota still has 13 games remaining against the Tigers, 13 against the Royals and 12 versus the Indians, all teams featured in the league's bottom eight in batting average against.
Usually Target Field is a tough place to hit home runs but for Plouffe, it's been just the opposite. Nine of his 14 homers have come at Minnesota's home stadium. Last season, Target Field yielded home runs at a rate that was 24 percent below the league average so it's odd that Plouffe has been having so much success there. But hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Plus Plouffe is fantasy eligible at not one, not two or even three positions: he's eligible at four. Plouffe can play as a second baseman, shortstop, third baseman and an outfielder, making him one of the more versatile fantasy players in the sport. Even if Plouffe is merely average the rest of the way, odds are he's still going to be one of the league's better middle infield fantasy options with such little depth at those positions this season.
Even if he starts cooling off (and he will) I think Plouffe will still be a useful fantasy commodity going forward.
Plouffe's days of handing out free tacos are over but wouldn't you rather have a fantasy championship anyway?
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