Updated: March 29th, 2012 2:59pm
Signs point to Chris Parmelee being Twins' opening-day first baseman

Signs point to Chris Parmelee being Twins' opening-day first baseman

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan wouldn't go so far as to fully admit it on Thursday.

But Chris Parmelee is probably going to be the starting first baseman when the Twins open regular-season play next Friday.

"I'm not going to deny it," Ryan said prior to the Twins game against the Pirates. "(Justin) Morneau hasn't been over there too much, as you know. If that's what we're doing, so be it."

Parmelee, who ripped an RBI double, drew a walk and lined out in six plate appearances Thursday, has started twice as many games at first base this spring as any other player on the roster. The Twins also have him playing some right field, which was actually his primary position at one point in the low minors.

Parmelee's .355/.443/.592 batting line with four home runs in 88 major league plate appearances at the end of last season was certainly impressive, but there was some skepticism internally as to whether he could have sustained success without Triple-A seasoning.

This spring the Twins have been impressed with Parmelee's continued mature, patient approach at the plate, and Morneau's preference for the DH slot has created an opening.

"He's just taken good at-bats, he's played a very good first base," Ryan said. "He's done OK in the outfield. You start to wait for him to crack because he's a kid and hasn't played Triple-A. There's been one or two at-bats where I said, 'That didn't look so good.' (But) people say that about the best player in the game."

That mature approach is evidenced by Parmelee cutting his strikeout rate in half from his days in Beloit (29%) to last season in New Britain (15%). He also draws a lot of walks.

Parmelee's emergence doesn't come without questions. Aside from the fact that he hasn't played at the Triple-A level, it should be pointed out that his Double-A slugging percentage is just .416. Dodgers first baseman James Loney, for instance, slugged .416 last year. Angels shortstop Erik Aybar slugged .421.

In fact, of the 24 first baseman to tally at least 500 major league plate appearances last year, only Loney, Aubrey Huff (.370), Juan Rivera (.382), Mitch Moreland (.414), Casey Kotchman (.422) and Gaby Sanchez (.427) slugged below .430.

There are also questions about Parmelee's defense. He has gotten leaner since last season, which is a positive, and Twins coaches -- including Tom Kelly -- have worked with him on softening his hands, so to speak, when fielding grounders.

On Thursday, Parmelee -- diving to his right -- allowed a hard groundball to go under his glove in the second inning. Another hard grounder zipped by him down the line in the first inning.

These certainly weren't routine plays by any stretch, but they are plays Justin Morneau made frequently when healthy. Joe Mauer has also shown the ability to make wide-ranging plays at first base.

Still, Twins decision-makers feel as if Parmelee, 24, has bottled-up power that has yet to emerge statistically. They also feel as if he has improved his defense.

When the regular season begins next week, it appears as if Parmelee will have the chance to prove it.

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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