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Sobolewski beat cancer, now playing for roster spot

Infielder is in his first Major League camp, and may be backup third baseman in '13

Special to

JUPITER, Fla. -- Twins third baseman Mark Sobolewski never takes an opportunity for granted, not after what happened on Dec. 29, 2011.

Five days after his 25th birthday, Sobolewski received a melanoma diagnosis -- the most dangerous form of skin cancer. In early September, he had noticed a pimple-like protrusion on the left side of his throat, and got it checked out after the baseball season.

A few weeks after the diagnosis, he underwent surgery to remove the area surrounding it as well as two lymph nodes. In 2012, a cancer-free Sobolewski batted .249 with 20 home runs, 21 doubles and 59 RBIs for Toronto's Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.

"That was a big deal and that puts a lot of baseball into perspective," Sobolewski said. "Clearly, when you get news like that, there's some uncertainty for a few weeks, and then you get a good result from the doctor. You have a lot to be grateful for, and it makes baseball a lot more fun."

When the Blue Jays completed their blockbuster deal with the Marlins this past November, Sobolewski was left unprotected. Minnesota acquired him as a Rule 5 pick.

In his first Major League camp, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Sobolewski is 4-for-9 with two doubles and five RBIs through seven games. He credits his early success with feeling comfortable at the plate.

Though Sobolewski hasn't started a game, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has brought him into games around the fifth inning as a defensive replacement to ease him into plate appearances.

"He's doing well," Gardenhire said. "He's handling himself well. He picks the ball up pretty good over there [at third]. That's what you like about it. You bring these guys in and see what they can do. Our staff down there sees him, we take him and now we get to see him firsthand."

The Twins don't have a solidified backup for Trevor Plouffe, who will enter his fourth big league season.

Minnesota signed Ray Olmedo, who played 20 games with the White Sox last year. Prospect Deibinson Romero remains absent with visa issues in the Dominican Republic.

"I think everybody's getting their work in, and clearly you want to do your best, and there's always competition," said Sobolewski, who has become fast friends with Plouffe while talking at third. "The main thing is, everybody here handles it well. Trevor's been an awesome guy, very welcoming."

Though he has played 97 percent of his Minor League games at third base, Sobolewski said he would play any position the team asked. Gardenhire and his coaches have had him working on his footwork and they are pleased with his "great hands."

"I just want to compete and do the very best that I can," Sobolewski said. "I want to set myself up to have an awesome year, no matter where I am. I just want to set myself up to play well and take it all in and enjoy. I'm really happy to be here with the Twins, and I don't take it for granted."

Christina De Nicola is a contributor to

Minnesota Twins, Mark Sobolewski