With just a few days remaining before the Twins were to travel to Chicago to begin the 2014 season, Chris Parmelee got the sickening news that his services would not be needed a the major league level. Out of options, the Twins were willing to expose him to waivers and risk losing him to an organization. As an additional gut punch, all of the other organizations in baseball said “eh, no thanks”.
Shortly after receiving the news at Hammond Stadium Parmelee had the appearance of someone who just died, the exact person whom Jake Taylor was referring to in the movie Major League. In the clubhouse that morning, he was walking in a daze, slowly packing items from his locker and trying to process what had just happened. Occasionally a player or coach would walk by and offer some platitudes.
In front of a handful of media members in the offices at the stadium, Twins assistant GM Rob Antony remarked that Chris Colabello out-performed him and then levied a few adjustments that the team was hoping Parmelee would make if he made the decision to stay with the organization.
“[Parmelee] needs to regroup. He hasn’t gotten the job done,” Antony explained. “He’s had opportunities. We need him to be a run-producer. He needs to be a profile guy who can play first base, play the corner outfield positions and drive in runs. And to me, he’s become way too passive at the plate, taking pitches, taking strikes, taking first-pitch fastballs down the middle. He needs to go up there with the mentality that he’s going to do some damage trying to be aggressive.”
Ultimately, with $242,200 of salary on the line to stay with the Twins, Parmelee accepted his reassignment to Rochester and went to work improving his offense.
In regards to Antony and the Twins’ assessment of Parmelee being too passive, the numbers do not necessarily reflect that notion. In most circumstances -- taking first-pitch fastballs in the zone or taking pitches in general -- Parmelee is right around league average. In fact, last year Parmelee held an above-average swing rate in hitter's counts (48% vs the 44% league-average rate according to ESPN/TruMedia). More than likely, the Twins just wanted him to swing aggressively -- not so in which circumstance.
Parmelee’s 2014 season, his third tour of the International League, started off with a bang. He had compiled seven home runs in 32 games, putting himself near the top of the leaderboard. Naturally, the reaction from the fan base was that this performance was nothing new -- after all, those who remember his 2012 season in Rochester will recall that he dropped 17 dingers in 64 games before posting yawn-inducing numbers in 2013.
How was this output any different than the circumstances in 2012? Was Parmelee simply a AAAA player, one destined to wax AAA pitching but never make the jump in the major leagues?
The biggest reason why this season is likely more comparable to the 2012 year (and provides the hope that this is finally his breakthrough) has to do with regaining the aggression in his swing. In 2013 and during spring training, Parmelee had changed his swing from the previous year. What Parmelee demonstrated last year was a more contact-oriented approach in his swing, specifically his lower-half. Parmelee implemented a toe-tap in his stride that may have reduced his ability to drive the ball:
This approach followed him into spring training this year which the Twins evaluators took note:
Perhaps the realization that he could be jobless encouraged Parmelee to make changes. Whatever the reason, wherever the encouragement came from, Parmelee began to swing with more vigor. It was during this stretch that we see his transition from the toe-tap to the full leg-lift which led to seven home runs in 32 games:
That method has continued upon his call up to Minnesota:
With this swing, Parmelee is able to engage his hips better and generate more power, as we have seen with his prodigious home runs.
The Twins challenged Chris Parmelee to become more aggressive at the plate. He did. Will this power continue? Like the adaptations that Chris Colabello and Trevor Plouffe made to their swings, the real test becomes how they respond once pitchers change their approach. As has been the case with Colabello and Plouffe, pitchers have worked them away more often and that has sent them into prolonged funks. It is possible that Parmelee’s newfound aggression could be used against him -- like fewer fastballs and more off-the-plate pitches.