Updated: March 24th, 2012 11:20am
Mackey: Door opens wider for Chris Parmelee if Justin Morneau is DH

Mackey: Door opens wider for Chris Parmelee if Justin Morneau is DH

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Let's preface this by saying Minnesota Twins decision-makers are adamant that no decision has been made about Justin Morneau's primary position.

But Saturday marked the seventh consecutive game in which Morneau has been the designated hitter. His last start at first base came on March 13.

Earlier in the week, general manager Terry Ryan said he'd like to see Morneau play in the field more often, but "groundballs and fielding isn't a problem with him. He's very accomplished on the defensive side."

Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire don't need to see what Morneau can do in the field when healthy, because they already know. All three parties have said the primary goal is to get Morneau's bat going. He doubled against the Yankees on Friday to raise his spring batting average to .108.

The Twins are likely to keep 13 position players on the roster. The locks appear to be Morneau, catchers Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit, third baseman Danny Valencia, shortstop Jamey Carroll, second baseman Alexi Casilla, and outfielders Josh Willingham and Denard Span.

Let's also assume outfielders Trevor Plouffe and Ben Revere are in as the third and fourth outfielders, in no particular order.

That leaves three open slots for the 11 remaining position players in camp -- catchers Drew Butera, Rene Rivera and J.R. Towles, outfielders Joe Benson and Brian Dinkelman, infielders Brian Dozier, Sean Burroughs, Pedro Florimon, Michael Hollimon, Luke Hughes and Chris Parmelee.

Hughes is out of minor league options, and the Twins are thin on experienced middle infielders. Let's count him in.

Early in camp, there were strong indications the Twins would keep three catchers. Gardenhire wanted Doumit's bat in the lineup as a DH on days when Morneau was playing first base and Mauer was catching, which meant Butera -- or another third catcher -- would be available off the bench in an emergency situation.

But if Morneau mostly occupies the DH slot, the Twins would need an every-day first baseman on the days Mauer catches.

Doumit has taken some reps at first base, but his primary positions are catcher and outfield. Hughes, Plouffe and Burroughs can all play first base, but probably not on a daily basis.

This is where the door is propped wide open for Parmelee, who started in right field against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. Parmelee is hitting .324/.395/.588 with four extra-base hits in 34 at-bats so far this spring.

Many people in the organization, including Ryan, believe Parmelee has been one of the most impressive players in camp so far, building off his strong major league debut last September.

Parmelee has a career minor league slugging percentage of .436 (and a career isolated power of .170), but many believe he has a lot of untapped power at age 24.

The Twins are also impressed with Parmelee's mature, patient approach at the plate as of late. His strikeout rate hovered around 28% in Single-A four years ago, but he has cut that down to 15% last year between Double-A and the major leagues.

If Parmelee makes the club, his presence would create a logjam between first base, DH, catcher and possibly corner outfield -- a problem the Twins would welcome.

Parmelee's presence might also allow the Twins to keep only two catchers, thus opening a door for an infielder such as Dozier, Burroughs, Florimon or Hollimon to make the club.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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