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02/01/12 2:25 PM EST

Carroll offers Twins stability late in his career

Coming off two standout years, utilityman, 37, set to start at short

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jamey Carroll is the definition of a late bloomer.

He was drafted out of the University of Evansville (Ind.) in the 14th round of the 1996 First-Year Player Draft, but didn't make his debut until late 2002 as a 28-year-old callup with the Expos.

But since then, Carroll has proven his worth with a career .278 batting average and .356 on-base percentage while playing all over the diamond -- at shortstop, second base, third base and all three outfield positions.

And Carroll, who turns 38 on Feb. 18, is seemingly getting better with age, as he's coming off two of the most productive years of his career. Over those two seasons with the Dodgers, Carroll combined to hit .290 with a .368 on-base percentage while playing a total of 135 games at shortstop, 129 games at second base, 11 games at third base and five games in left field.

As a result, the 5-foot-9, 170-pounder quickly became a fan favorite in Los Angeles, and teams also took notice this offseason when he became a free agent.

The Twins liked what they saw from Carroll, inking him to a two-year deal worth $6.75 million to become their starting shortstop and No. 2 hitter.

"We brought him in to catch the ball and do all the little things out there to solidify the middle of our infield," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We have to get the outs. That's the reason we went after a guy like Carroll."

Carroll, though, isn't taking the mentality that the shortstop position is his from the get-go, as the 10-year veteran said he's still going to prepare like he's fighting for a job in Spring Training.

"I'm just going to come in ready to play wherever they tell me to go," Carroll said. "I'm looking to win the shortstop job and try to play every day. That's always been my goal, and I don't think there's a guy in here who doesn't want to play every day. If he doesn't want to play every day, he's not going to be here. But it's ultimately, get in here, show them what I'm capable of doing and letting Gardy and them make the decision."

Carroll also knows his limitations -- he hasn't homered since 2009 and has just 12 dingers in 2,974 career at-bats -- but tries to focus on his strengths.

The veteran is aware that his primary asset is his ability to get on base, and he is also regarded as a good baserunner, considering he was 22-for-26 on stolen-base attempts over the last two years with the Dodgers.

"I'm all right with people ripping my slugging percentage and stuff like that, because my job is to get on base and to make things happen," said Carroll, who has a career .348 slugging percentage. "Hopefully that fits into what they want here."

The Twins, who scored just 619 runs last year, desperately need an injection of Carroll's on-base skills, as he's expected to slide in between Denard Span and Joe Mauer in the lineup.

But they also need stability at the shortstop position, where Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe combined to make 21 errors in 2011.

Carroll made just eight errors in his 135 games at shortstop with the Dodgers, and while his range isn't quite what it used to be, he's still regarded as a steady defender.

"I've played a lot more short than people think," Carroll said. "In Cleveland, I didn't have to play for two years because the other guys couldn't play everywhere else, and I could. So I had to come back out and prove to everybody again that I was capable of playing shortstop.

"I felt like I did a pretty good job over there, and there were a lot of teams calling that said that was helpful in the free-agent process."

Carroll said he was excited to sign a two-year deal with the Twins, and hinted it could be his final contract. And Carroll, who has 3-year-old twins -- son Cole and daughter Mackenzie -- with his wife, Kim, said he's most happy with the stability the contract brings.

"More than anything with a two-year deal is that I know where I'm going to be, I know where my family's going to be," said Carroll. "That's a huge part of it. I don't know how much time I have left, so this may be it. So going into this last contract, I go in with an understanding of what I'm doing, what I get to do and what it's all about -- and knowing that I have a family now and want them to enjoy this experience, as well."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.