Likely Starter: Chris Parmelee
2012 Stats: .229/.290/.380, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 18 R
Potential Backups: Darin Mastroianni, Wilkin Ramirez, Ryan Doumit
One of the big storylines for the Twins this year will be the trio of former first-round draft picks getting opportunities to prove their worth in the majors. Aaron Hicks is the headliner, and Trevor Plouffe has plenty of fanfare after launching 24 homers last season, but Chris Parmelee has slipped under the radar to some extent.
Unlike Plouffe and Hicks, Parmelee has had a heck of a time finding a place to stick. The Twins cleared out two center fielders to make room for their prized prospect, and Plouffe has been handed the reins at multiple positions. Conversely, Parmelee has spent much of his time in the majors buried on the depth chart. His overall numbers in the big leagues thus far havenít been impressive, but heís never had a sustained chance to settle in. Now, thatís about to change.
Clearly right field isnít the ideal position for Parmelee. Heís slow-footed and will have to rely on quick reactions and smart routes to provide competent defense in the outfield. Heís better suited for first base and itís possible heíll land there before seasonís end.
But defense wonít be the measuring stick for this 25-year-old. Regardless of where he ends up Ė whether itís right field, or first base, or DH Ė Parmelee is not going to be a defensive asset, so he needs to hit in order to last as a major-league regular.
Fortunately, heís shown plenty with the bat over the past couple seasons to inspire hope that he can be a long-term fixture in the lineup. In the earlier portion of his minor-league career, Parmelee was more serviceable than spectacular at the plate, which largely prevented him from gaining prominence as a prospect, but somewhere along the line at New Britain in 2011 he seemingly turned a corner. Late in the year, he joined the Twins as a September call-up and went on an obscene tear, posting a 1.035 OPS with four homers and six doubles in 21 games to instantly push himself into the teamís plans.
He followed up the brilliant MLB debut with a 2012 season that was spent shuttling back and forth between Minnesota and Rochester. In the majors, he showed occasional flashes of promise but was largely ineffective, undoubtedly hampered by sporadic playing time. In Triple-A he was outright brilliant, raking to the tune of .338/.457/.645 with 17 homers in 64 games while walking as he often as he struck out. Among players who accumulated 250 or more plate appearances in the International League, he ranked first in batting average, OBP and slugging. It was the type of performance weíd never seen from Parmelee over a lengthy stretch: complete and utter dominance at the dish.
Granted, that was Triple-A, and the majors are another matter entirely. But those kinds of numbers Ė from a 24-year-old who entered the season with only a smattering of at-bats above Double-A Ė canít be overlooked.
While it's probably best to remain cautious in our optimism, there are plenty of signs that Parmelee has begun realize the potential that the Twins saw when they drafted him 20th overall in 2006. The polished approach the plate. The sweet lefty swing. The ability to spray line drives to all fields.
His next step will be transferring it to the big leagues. Heíll have the opportunity to do so in right field this season, but itís a good bet he wonít remain there for too long. Either heíll scuffle and be pushed aside for another of the organizationís numerous rising young outfielders (Joe Benson and Oswaldo Arcia are the leading short-term candidates) or heíll handle the challenge and establish himself as Justin Morneauís successor at first base.
Wherever he's standing in the field, it is at the plate that Parmelee commands attention, and that's where he'll seek to make his mark this year. I, for one, am excited to see what he can do.