Twins option Clement to Triple-A

Jeff Clement has been fighting for a spot on the Minnesota Twins’ Opening Day roster since they signed him to a minor league deal four months ago.

He showed up to Hammond Stadium on Sunday in Fort Myers, Fla., for a Grapefruit League game against the Toronto Blue Jays that felt more like an audition than another day at the ballpark.

After an 0-for-4 showing at the plate, Clement simply knew he was headed to the minor leagues.

The 29-year-old slugger from Marshalltown failed to make enough of an impact with his bat during Spring Training and was assigned Monday to the Twins’ minor league camp. Clement, a 2002 Marshalltown High School graduate now in his seventh year of professional baseball, said he felt the demotion coming.

“Unfortunately it wasn’t a surprise,” he said Monday in a phone interview from Fort Myers. “The last week or so I haven’t really swung the bat as well, and spring training is such a small sample size.

“I’m thankful they gave me the opportunity. I had a real opportunity to make the team and that’s all I could have asked for.”

After Monday’s roster cuts, the Twins still had six players more than the 25-man roster limit. Spring camp breaks on Saturday.

“Earlier in camp, about halfway through, I was swinging it pretty well,” Clement said. “I had a lot of lineouts, I didn’t have a lot of luck, but here they really evaluate the at-bats you have and how well you’re doing – not just the numbers.

“Going through this whole process I’ve come to appreciate the (Minnesota Twins) organization even more. (General manager) Terry Ryan is one of the best evaluators of talent in the game.”

That being said, the left-handed hitting first baseman and former third overall draft pick of the Seattle Mariners could not string together enough solid at-bats to make Minnesota keep him on the big league roster. He will fly north on April 1 to join the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate, the Rochester (N.Y.) Red Wings of the International League. The Red Wings’ season starts April 4 in Buffalo.

“Usually from my limited experiences, waves of guys get sent down, but in this camp it’s been less in waves and more bits and pieces, guys here and there,” Clement said. “(Monday) guys were getting called in by the bench coach, saying the manager wants to talk to you. Unfortunately I was one of those guys.”

Clement has been a painfully slow starter offensively over his professional baseball career, spring training included. In 95 games of spring training between stints with the Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates and his first year with the Twins, Clement is batting .220 (41-for-186) with three home runs, 11 doubles and 23 RBIs.

Sunday’s 0-for-4 effort included a first-inning RBI groundout to drive in former American League MVP Justin Morneau and advance Chris Parmelee to third. In that instance, he did his job, but over the long haul this spring, Clement knows he has had too many missed opportunities.

His batting average dipped to .195 with the 0-fer, leaving him on the outside looking in at Minnesota’s Opening Day roster.

“I had confidence that I could make the team and I still believe that, I just needed to do more than what I did,” Clement said. “(Sunday) was one of those days, and obviously it’s not based on one day, but I was thinking that somebody in my position is really going to have to play well and hit the ball well, hit a few out of the park, and I didn’t do that.

“It was a good opportunity and I truly believed I would take advantage of it. But now I’m headed to Triple-A, and if I can go there and produce I’ve got a good chance of coming back.”

Clement spent a majority of the 2012 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians of the International League. He batted .276 over 112 games with 35 doubles, 16 home runs and 57 RBIs. The Pirates brought him up in late August-early September and he went 3-for-22 (.136) serving primarily as a pinch-hitter.

The Twins signed him on as a spring roster invitee on Nov. 26, 2012, and Triple-A Rochester was the last place he wanted to talk about.

Until now.

“I just have to show up and play every day,” he said. “Obviously to get that news is disappointing, but it wasn’t a shock to me because I didn’t feel like I did what I needed to do to make the team. But it sure makes a difference to come home to a wife and three kids like I have, a wife who’s really supportive and I’m always thankful for that, and the kids couldn’t care less.”

Clement is a career .280 hitter at the highest level of the minor leagues, belting 152 doubles and 84 home runs with 340 RBIs in just shy of 2,000 at-bats. He has played 535 of his 745 professional baseball games at Triple-A.

For every one game he’s played in the major leagues, he’s played five on the farm.

“It’s not the last place I want to be, the last place is going home without a job,” he said. “It’s still baseball, I’ve still got a uniform, my career is not ending. I’ve had a lot of success at the Triple-A level, so I’ll go do what I’m capable of to get another opportunity to play in the big leagues.

“That’s where every baseball player wants to be and I’m no different.”