WILLMAR -- After a difficult 99-loss season, the focus was on the future when the Minnesota Twins Caravan rolled through Willmar on Thursday evening.
So it was fitting that the three visiting players are young up-and-comers who could be important parts of a turnaround in 2012.
"Worst-to-first happened (in 1990 and 1991)," Twins outfielder Trevor Plouffe said. "We're looking at that as inspiration."
Plouffe was joined on the Caravan with pitcher Anthony Swarzak, former first-round draft pick Chris Parmelee and radio broadcaster Dan Gladden.
It was the group's fourth and final day on the road, after starting Monday in Aberdeen and Sioux Falls, S.D. They will return to Minneapolis today for three days at Twins Fest.
The event was led off by a video montage of 2011 highlights and a look towards 2012. It was a season short on highlights, but several events stood out: Bert Blyleven's election to the Hall of Fame, Francisco Liriano's no-hitter and the death (and celebration of) Harmon Killebrew.
After the video presentation, the floor was turned over to the fans who asked the players a variety of questions.
All three players in attendance were high draft picks out of high school and were asked about their decisions to sign with the Twins rather than attend college on a baseball scholarship.
Plouffe and Swarzak were drafted in the first and second rounds respectively of the 2004 draft, Plouffe out of Crespi Carmelite (Encino, Calif.) High School and Swarzak out of Nova (Davie, Fla.) High School.
Swarzak said he would play professional baseball as long as he could and worry about the next stage later.
"I had a scholarship to go to LSU," he said. "In all honesty, I had no intention of going to college. I tried to use my scholarship as leverage in the draft."
Plouffe said he had a scholarship to go the University of Southern California. He ultimately decided to sign with the Twins when they drafted him 20th overall in '04, but he said he still has four years' worth of scholarship money and can go back to school
Parmelee, the youngest of the three, was drafted 20th overall in the 2006 draft out of Chino Hills (Calif.) High School.
He made his Major League debut late last season and got a base hit in his first at bat off Chicago White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy. He played in just 21 games, but put up a .355 batting average and hit four home runs.
"(The Twins are) an unbelievable organization," Parmelee said of his decision to go pro. "They absolutely are No. 1 in developing players. I love playing this game and I knew it was something I wanted to do with my life."
With Parmelee being the junior member of the group, Plouffe and Swarzak took the opportunity to haze him whenever possible.
Both gave long-winded answers to a fan question about the best ways to raise children who play baseball, before handing the mic to a speechless Parmelee, asking if he had anything to add. They were also fond of asking Parmelee questions and switching off the mic before handing it to him.
All three players expressed disappointment with 2011, but had optimism for the upcoming season.
"It was a tough year for all of us," Swarzak said. "(But) we battled for every out we recorded and we continued to get better throughout the year.
"It was fun to be a part of. I'm excited to see what we have for next year."
Plouffe said he was definitely disappointed with how 2011 turned out.
"We're not used it, we know the fans aren't used to it," he said. "Last year just wasn't acceptable.
"Coming into this year we're going have some of our veterans back, plus us young guys who have now gotten our feet wet, it's going to be a good combination."
Gladden, a member of the 1987 and 1991 Twins World Series-winning teams, said these players remind him of how, in 1990, the Twins had the worst record in the American League.
"I think what these guys are saying, in the 2012 season, they're predicting a World Series."