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Twins offense full of sleeper options

3/30/2012

I've been watching closely over the past few weeks as a certain Minnesota Twins first baseman has become relevant in fantasy leagues. This guy with a sweet, lefty swing and enough power to matter has appeared to earn himself a regular job with the season starting next week, and fantasy owners should start thinking about him. Oh, and former AL MVP Justin Morneau has looked pretty good, too.

Surprise! While I can understand why you thought Morneau was the main topic, I'm talking about emerging prospect Chris Parmelee. Look, Morneau has hit three home runs in the past week, and not off Single-A pitchers, either. Two came off defending AL top rookie Jeremy Hellickson, the other off Vance Worley. Morneau is hitting, and we all know that's a great sign since concussion symptoms have held him back since the middle of the 2010 season. I'm rooting for him, and I'd definitely take a look at him with a late pick in standard mixed leagues.

However, this Parmelee fellow piques my interest as well, and the rumors coming from Twins camp that Morneau is healthy enough to hit regularly but will handle designated hitter duties indefinitely seems to open up first base or perhaps right field for the 23-year-old. Parmelee posted an ordinary .802 OPS at Double-A New Britain last year. I saw him play a few home games -- ESPN isn't far away -- and was intrigued by his plate discipline, but I wondered if he had enough power long term. Parmelee drew 68 walks and smacked 30 doubles but hit only 13 home runs. The Twins gave him September to prove himself, and while it's a small sample size, a 1.035 OPS in 21 big league games made a mark.

While Morneau and Joe Mauer make most of the headlines for the Twins, Parmelee, Ryan Doumit and other lesser-known names should also be on the fantasy radar screens in deeper leagues. As such, let's roll through this Twins lineup; I'll add my thoughts.

1. Denard Span, CF: He's going in the 23rd round of ESPN average live drafts and 57th among outfielders, soon after Jason Bay, Vernon Wells and his teammate Ben Revere. For now it appears Span will start and Revere will not. So what gives? Well, Revere has major speed and is elite defensively, but concerns about his ability to get on base are legit. Span boasts a career .361 OBP and he stole a combined 49 bases in 2009 and 2010. A concussion tanked his 2011 campaign. I think Span can keep this job, even though fantasy owners like Revere more because of his steals potential. I have Span among my top 50 outfielders, ahead of Revere.

2. Jamey Carroll, SS: Well, if you own Mauer or Morneau, you want people on base, and Carroll did hit .290 with a .368 OBP over the past two seasons for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He did not homer, not even once, but he stole double-digit bases each year. Not much to like here in most fantasy league setups.

3. Joe Mauer, C: He looks fine to me, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he won his fourth AL batting title. I'm serious. Take the under on double-digit home runs, but still this is a top-5 catcher who just happened to have a miserable (and odd) 2011 season.

4. Justin Morneau, DH: I'm hoping for 400 at-bats, and if he can do that, perhaps 20 home runs and lots of RBIs. Look, we just don't know. The Twins don't, Morneau doesn't. If sticking to DH duties makes the situation better, that's a good thing. I'd take Morneau outside the top 15 among first basemen, but not long after. The upside is huge, as his 2010 first half shows, but there's obvious risk. If he gets 400 at-bats, wouldn't he likely outperform the likes of Adam Lind, Gaby Sanchez, Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Pena and especially the similarly risky Ryan Howard? I say he would.

5. Josh Willingham, LF: He hit 29 home runs for the Oakland Athletics, so him hitting at Target Field doesn't scare me. Willingham actually hit better at his spacious home ballpark last year than on the road (.233 batting average on the road, .260 at home). I'll peg him for more like 25 home runs, some 30 missed games and a low batting average, but he's a solid No. 4 fantasy outfielder.

6. Ryan Doumit, RF: I think Doumit and Parmelee will be regulars, and fantasy owners shouldn't care which one plays first base and which one plays right field. Doumit is catcher-eligible. Bingo! I've softened a bit on his sleeper status of late, because I don't think all his injury woes have been from playing catcher, and he had an odd career home/road split in Pittsburgh (.285 at PNC Park, .257 on the road with far less power). Still, if your No. 2 catcher hits .270 with 13 home runs, that's worth it.

7. Danny Valencia, 3B: Well, I'm not a big fan. Did you know he started more games at third base than anyone in the game last year? And he did manage 15 home runs, though the .246 batting average mitigates that. Third base is deeper than first base for fantasy this season, in my mind; as such, Valencia is going undrafted. For those in deeper formats, I don't think there's a ton of upside here; a right-handed hitter, he's below average, unless a lefty is throwing, and should probably be platooned.

8. Chris Parmelee, 1B: Let the kid play somewhere and enjoy a nice OBP and, hopefully, 15 big league home runs. It's really not an outlandish request. In something deeper than a 12-team league, I'll use a bench spot on him to see what happens in April.

9. Alexi Casilla, 2B: I named him one of my stolen-base sleepers, but Casilla has never played 100 big league games in one season. Injuries and performance always seem to get in the way. Still, he is fast.

Frankly, I think the Twins must find room for emerging slugger Trevor Plouffe. He doesn't have the glove to stick at shortstop, but put him at first base, second or a corner outfield spot and there's the potential for him to go all Michael Morse on AL pitching. I'm not saying Plouffe is going to hit 30 home runs like Morse did in 2011, but check their career tracks and walk rates, and it's interesting. Like the impatient Morse, Plouffe has holes in the swing and playing time isn't assured, but there's clearly power lurking here and the Twins know it, which is why right field is a legitimate possibility. I've already spent the extra dollar in AL-only formats on Plouffe to find out.