There's a saying that goes: one man's persisting and possibly career-ending concussion aftermath is another man's opportunity. Something like that, anyway.
Up to this point, things have gone smoothly for Justin Morneau, who has been able to get through all his workouts and delivered an RBI single in the Twins' Grapefruit League opener on Saturday. But the first baseman acknowledged recently that post-concussion symptoms continued to haunt him throughout the offseason, and that if they return he's probably going to have to hang up the spikes.
Those would be some pretty big spikes to fill.
Morneau has been a godsend for the Twins, largely because he's the type of player that this organization has struggled to produce: a truly elite slugger. He drove in 100 or more runs every year from 2006 to 2009, becoming the first Twin ever to reach triple digits in four consecutive seasons. His ability to hit for both average and power made him one of the most feared and respected batsmen in the league.
That's exactly the kind of player you want at first base. If Morneau can't return to that level, there's no one in the short-term picture who can even come close to replacing the production he offered when healthy. In fact, it's not clear that the Twins could even find a competent bat to stick at first base if Morneau's brain injury forced him out.
The organization's best hopes at this point lie with Chris Parmelee. If he can keep doing what he's been doing since the midway point last year, he offers optimism that the Twins could get by without Morneau's mighty bat at first base.
Parmelee's first four seasons in Minnesota's system after being drafted 20th overall in 2006 were largely underwhelming. He moved very gradually up the minor-league ladder, battled injuries and posted solid yet unspectacular numbers as a slow-footed first baseman and corner outfielder.
Last year, at the age of 23, Parmelee turned a corner. His overall numbers at New Britain – .287/.366/.436 with 13 homers – were very much in line with his past production. Yet, hidden in those numbers were some very promising signs.
For one thing, he finally stayed healthy all year, appearing in a career-high 142 games over five months with the Rock Cats before playing in another 21 after a September promotion to Minnesota.
Parmelee also got stronger as the season went along. After hitting .283 with five home runs between April, May and June, he hit .305 with six homers and 26 RBI in July, then hit .302 with a pair of dingers in August before heading north and hitting .355 with four homers for the Twins in September.
It's great to see Parmelee hitting for average, considering that he hit just .250 over his first four years as a pro, and it's especially encouraging to see him hitting the ball out of the yard more frequently. In the end, his ability to hit for power will largely dictate his overall value.
No one expects Parmelee to develop into the type of dominant slugger that Morneau has been for the Twins. But if his recent improvement is legitimate, and he can become 20-homer type with a solid average and walk rate, the thought of losing Morneau becomes considerably less traumatizing.
Parmelee's two-run homer in yesterday's exhibition game is a promising sign that his new-found power is here to stay. I'll be looking for more of that as the spring progresses.