I love following the players in spring training that sign on with the Twins as minor league free agents. These are the guys that used to be big names or high draft choices, and either got injured or haven’t fulfilled their promise yet. Think guys like J.R. Towles and Sean Burroughs.
August 28, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pinch hitter Jeff Clement (19) singles against the St. Louis Cardinals during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 9-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
But for every Joel Zumaya who comes and goes without getting back to The Show with the Twins, there’s a Jared Burton who breaks camp with the big league club and reinvents himself as a quality contributor. Actually, it’s probably more like one Burton for every five Zumayas.
The Twins have invited 26 non-roster players to spring training at this point, but that number could change in the next week or so if Terry Ryan picks up some scraps between now and the start of camp. Seven of those players signed on as minor league free agents from other organizations and will be spending their first spring in a Twins uniform.
In theory, at least, these guys will have a chance to compete for a spot on the big-league club. The Twins, however, tend to prefer to promote players from within the organization. These guys will, with a couple of possible exceptions, be facing an upward battle in Fort Meyers over the coming weeks.
Jeff Clement was seemingly destined for baseball greatness: at the age 12, he led the Middletown, Iowa team to the Little League World Series, and Sports Illustrated chronicled his breaking of the high school home run record in dramatic fashion while at Middletown High School. Like Joe Theismann, the Twins drafted him, but he chose to play college ball at USC. While there, he was named Collegiate Baseball Freshman National Co-Player of the Year, played on the US National Team, and won the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s best catcher as a junior.
The Seattle Mariners drafted him third overall in 2005…and then the knee surgeries started coming. In 2006, 2008 and 2010, Clement had his knees cut open. He continued to hit well in the minors, though, even as he moved to first base and began to DH more and more frequently. He began last season in competition for the Pirates’ starting first base job, got hurt and missed the beginning of the season but made it back to the Majors before the end of the year.
Clement has hit very well in the minors, but outside of a September call up at age 23, that performance hasn’t translated to success in his brief time in the Majors. However, he has great power and decent patience, exactly what you would like to see from a bench bat. Clement will turn 29 this year, so he’s no spring chicken, but if he’s put the injury bug behind him, the Twins might have a low-cost slugger they can keep on the bench, plug in at first base and DH on occasion, and not worry about giving him playing time every day.
Did you know?
Clement was not only a prodigious home run hitter in high school, he was also an award-winning artist.
Chances of making the Twins out of spring training:
At this point, Clement is an emergency catcher, if that, so his value is limited to his bat. If Ron Gardenhire opts to forgo a third catcher, it’s conceivable that Clement could make the team as a bench bat if he tears it up this spring. What’s more likely is that Clement starts the season in Rochester, continues to hit AAA pitching well, and makes an appearance at some point in the season if injuries or ineptitude strike the Twins.