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Clement catches on with Minnesota Twins

November 27, 2012
By ROSS THEDE - T-R Sports Editor (rthede@timesrepublican.com) , Times-Republican

The Minnesota Twins tried to give Jeff Clement his big break in baseball.

Ten years later, they're doing it again.

The Twins signed the Marshalltown native to a minor league deal with an invitation to major league spring training, the team announced Monday, finally acquiring the player they drafted in the 12th round of Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft in June of 2002.

Clement, then a Marshalltown High School senior, instead chose to play out his final prep season before accepting a scholarship to play catcher at Southern Cal. The Bobcats won Iowa high school's Class 4A state baseball championship, and Clement went on to become a three-time all-Pac-10 selection, an All-American and the third overall draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2005.

Injuries have rockied his road ever since, but they haven't dampened his spirits. A pair of knee surgeries delayed his eventual major league debut, and Clement played parts of two seasons with the Mariners before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 2009 campaign.

Now 29 and a father of three, Clement is ready to take this opportunity and run with it.

"I think Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, I actually signed (my contract) so to have it done by Thanksgiving to have an opportunity with an organization like the Twins - one of the best organizations in baseball - is great," Clement said late Monday night.

As Pittsburgh's opening day starter at first base in 2010, Clement hit .189 (24-for-127) before being demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. He returned to the Steel City at the end of July and played in nine more games before another knee surgery was deemed necessary.

Following microfracture surgery on his left knee, Clement spent the better part of the 2011 season rehabilitating and training, finally appearing in 31 minor league games at the end of the year.

This offseason marked Clement's second as a free agent. Last fall the Pirates cut him loose before re-signing him to a minor league deal and an invitation to spring training.

Clement's 2012 campaign showed plenty of promise, as the catcher-turned-first baseman batted .276 with 35 doubles, 16 home runs and 57 RBIs over 112 games at Indianapolis. His 35 doubles ranked second in the International League, and he finally rejoined the Pirates at the end of August.

Used exclusively as a pinch-hitter, Clement batted 3-for-16 with a double and an RBI as Pittsburgh finished its late-season fade out of the playoff picture.

"Last offseason at this time I was a minor league free agent as well, and that was much more uncertainty going into this past season," Clement said. "I was coming off the injury and there were a lot of doubts whether or not I was healthy enough to play, but the Pirates gave me the opportunity to play every day and that's all I could ask for and I had a productive season.

"It was great to show I can still swing the bat and help a team win, so I was definitely more optimistic going into free agency this offseason."

Clement said he became a free agent within a week of the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series.

"At that point really I didn't have a whole lot to do with the process," he said. "That's kind of why you have an agent. My agent contacted all the teams, found out what the needs were, found out what the market was for a left-handed hitting first baseman, and you find out who's interested and you work your way through that."

The Twins return a pair of regular first baseman to their roster - Justin Morneau and Chris Parmelee - as well as part-time catcher Joe Mauer. The same trio worked into the designated hitter spot in Minnesota's lineup this past season, too, along with catcher Ryan Doumit.

"I just know, from what I understand from what's filtered down to me, is I'm going to get a serious opportunity to compete for one of those 25 roster spots," Clement said. "There are a lot of ways to find your way into the lineup, and I'm excited for the opportunity."

The Twins' spring training facility is in Fort Myers, Fla., about 90 miles south of where the Pirates played spring ball in Bradenton, Fla.

Should Clement earn a spot on the big league roster, Minneapolis will be as close as he's been to home since the summer the Bobcats won the state title.

"Obviously it's the team that drafted me out of high school, so it's neat to have an opportunity to sign with them this time around," Clement said. "It was something I really wanted to do out of high school but it didn't work out for a number of reasons, but I'm glad it did this time."

Ten years later, however long or short ago it seems.

"There's a lot of ways to look at it, at times it feels like it's been that long," Clement said. "Definitely a lot's happened the last 10 years, but it hasn't been that long since they drafted me. I remember I found out at practice at the high school, I was hitting in the cage and somebody came up and I heard about it that way.

"But I knew Joe Mauer got drafted No. 1 the year before by the Twins, so I didn't figure that was a great opportunity for me. My dream was always to play baseball professionally, but that wasn't going to be my best bet."

Now it is.

 
 

 

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