In my mind, Chris Parmelee is like a baby Trevor Plouffe. This is confusing, of course, because the latter is occasionally referred to as Babe Plouffe due to his ability to hit the long ball (and because of his Ryan Gosling looks). Plouffe, by the way, is a baby Josh Willingham. All three players are selective with what pitches they hit, occasionally get beaned and are power hitters at heart.
Willingham, of course, is nobody’s baby because he is all that is man. Willingham is the master; Plouffe and Parmelee are his disciples.
So, just to keep everything straight: Parmelee is 25, Plouffe is 27 and Willingham is 34, or as the good book says, “Willingham begat Plouffe who begat Parmelee.”
It may be hard for people to believe that I am comparing Parmelee to Plouffe. After all, Plouffe hit 24 home runs last year and Parmelee hit five. But there are similarities that go beyond their bats.
Plouffe is a converted shortstop that spent time in right field before settling in at third base. Parmelee spent most of his time in the minors playing first base, but moved to right field in order to accommodate Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer.
Parmelee raked in Triple-A, hitting .338/.457/.645 with 17 home runs in Rochester and put up similar numbers at all his stops in the minor leagues.
Two years ago, at age 23, he was brought up directly from Double-A—where he hit .282/.355/.416 with 19 home runs in two seasons—and killed it in his short big league stint. He hit .355/.443/.592 with four homers in 21 games.
Things slowed down a bit for Parmelee last season. He split time between Rochester and Minneapolis, hitting only .229/.290/.380 with five home runs in 64 games at Target Field. He spent 38 games at first base but had to move around the outfield in order to keep his spot on the team.
Parmelee has had spurts of greatness this season. He hit a bomb against the Orioles in Baltimore that probably landed in a different area code. He has played 60 games already and has similar numbers to last year—.223/.302/.346 with five home runs.
“I feel good at the plate,” he says. “The numbers aren’t where I’d like them to be. I’ll do whatever I can to get the runners in, get a run over—hit some balls hard and hit some soft ones for hits."
“It all evens out at the end of the year.”
Parmelee is being pilloried for those numbers. While fans tend to acknowledge his ability to hit home runs, they say he hits too many squibblers that stay in the infield and too many fly balls right at fielders.
NBC's Aaron Gleeman writes, “[The] jury is very much still out on whether Parmelee is part of the future anyway,” while acknowledging how well he played in his debut and during his stint in the minors.
In short, there is a feeling among many fans that Parmelee can take care of business in the minors but struggles to produce in the big leagues. The “Quad-A” label has been thrown around from time to time.
Take a look at Plouffe, though. He did not play at age 23, like Parmelee, but he batted .146/.143/.317 with two home runs at age 24 in 2010 and .238/.305/.392 with eight homers the next year at age 25. At that time, people were saying the same thing about him: He’s a great minor league hitter, but can’t produce in the majors.
After all, Plouffe reached Triple-A at age 22 but spent six seasons at that level. While his numbers were impressive (.261/.316/.449 with 47 home runs), they did not mean much unless he could replicate them in the big leagues.
Last season, however, Plouffe hit 24 home runs with a .235/.301/.455 line and probably would have hit 30 if he had not had a nagging thumb injury that set him back immediately after a hot streak. It is no coincidence that that production came both when he entered his prime at age 26, but also when the team assigned Willingham to a locker spot next to his.
This year, he is hitting .264/.344/.457 with five homers. But the injury bug got him again. He suffered a concussion and then had his calf flare up following an eight-game hit streak, but Plouffe returned to face the Tigers on his birthday and hit a home run to celebrate.
Safe to say, I think he’s doing just fine.
Here’s the similarity between the two Southern Californian sluggers: At age 25, people thought they were “Quad-A” players. But, remember, as soon as Plouffe entered his prime, at age 26, his production jumped.
And, for the record, Parmelee’s locker is right next to Plouffe’s.
The biggest difference between Plouffe and Parmelee is that it was the former’s bat that kept him in the lineup, where Parmelee’s defense is likely to keep him on the field.
Parmelee has an incredible ability to play the ball off the wall, which compliments his arm strength and allows him to throw players out at second or relay a ball to home plate.
“He works really hard at it,” says manager Ron Gardenhire. “He’s got quick feet, and he’s got a nice spin that’s under control—he’s very accurate with his throws."
“That throw to second base is one of those throws where, if you play it off the wall well, he’ll have a lot of chances [to throw people out].”
Parmelee primarily played first base in the minors and people questioned his ability to man right field when the Twins placed him there this season. “It's interesting that the Twins are using Parmelee in right field,” wrote Gleeman last year. “Because he figures to be below average there and played zero innings in the outfield for Rochester.”
Parmelee’s biggest asset in the field is his ability to play the ball off the wall; a task is more difficult than it appears.
“The wall here, it’s really tough,” says Gardenhire. “There’s a lot of things out there that it can hit.”
“It seems like there are 15 different surfaces out there, with the limestone fence, wood, padding, tin—a little bit of tin, concrete,” says Parmelee.
Yes, there is a little bit of tin in right field.
“Where the scoreboard is in right-center, the big screen, right above it is almost like a rain sheet of tin,” he continues. “Every once and a while, it’s pretty rare, but you see a ball come off that and just die.”
All the surfaces play differently. If the ball hits the scoreboard, it goes straight down. If it hits the concrete, it jumps farther than it would if it hits the padding. The wood is somewhere in between. The limestone fence is a complete wild card.
“It’s definitely repetition,” says Parmelee. “Sometimes there’s not much you can do about it. It’s just knowing how the ball is going to go."
“If you know that the ball is going to hit the plywood, repetition tells you how hard it is going to come off and where you need to be.”
Every park has a unique design, so when Parmelee goes on the road, he will take time during batting practice to practice playing balls off the wall.
“We’ll have a guy, usually Scottie Ullger, our outfield coach, he’ll hit balls down the line just to see how [they play],” he says. “Just because sometimes stadiums come to a point and sometimes they curve, so during batting practice we’ll get out there on the first day and throw some balls off the walls.”
“He fields balls off that bat,” says Gardenhire. “He takes a lot of pride in it and that’s a start.”
Parmelee says he has the AL Central parks down for the most part, but playing in an unfamiliar park, like when they traveled to D.C. to play the Washington Nationals in the beginning of June, is particularly difficult.
“The places you go the least,” he says. “You definitely have to do a bigger refresher course.”
As soon as he finished his sentence, Willingham, who had just received a cortisone shot in his knee, walked by and gave him a purple nipple. Parmelee froze for a few seconds, waiting until he thought Willingham was out of earshot. “Ow!” he expressed in pseudo-anger, half chuckling as he said it. There was a smile on his face, but also a little wince once his shirt finally untwisted.
That too was a refresher course; a reminder that Willingham may be 34, may have just gotten a cortisone shot and may only be hitting .211/.352/.411 with 10 home runs, but he’s still the man around here.
All quotes were obtained first-hand, unless otherwise indicated.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.