Out of the spotlight, a few bench players may soon get time to shine
Chris Parmelee likely to platoon vs. right-handers, who he hit .368 against in 2011
Hector Santiago appears to be a possibility to save games for the White Sox
Norichika Aoki should get plenty of at-bats with Corey Hart ailing to start season
On Tuesdays this season we're going to be looking at some under-the-radar players who could become the next big thing in fantasy baseball. You may know the names but not much about them or how much they can add to a fantasy team. In the opening installment we stay in the Centrals.
The Twins' hottest hitter following his debut last September, Parmelee entered camp without a position, as Justin Morneau appeared ready to put his concussion problems behind him and reclaim the full-time first base gig. That put Parmelee's spot on the roster into question but a strong spring forced Twins management to try to shoe horn him into the lineup, even giving him an audition in right field. However, Morneau's malady will limit him to designated hitting duties for the foreseeable future, opening up a large share of the first base job to the rookie. While this is great news for Parmelee owners, his struggles against left-handed pitching are a concern. Last season at New Britain, the southpaw swinger batted .312/.394/.486 with 12 home runs against right-handers but just .228/.288/.314 with one home run and against lefties. Once he reached the majors he continued to rake against righties (.368/.455/.614 with four home runs) and was solid against southpaws, too (.316/.409/.526), albeit in just 22 plate appearances. Look for him to get most of his starts against righties, with the switch-hitting Ryan Doumit, who had been the favorite for DH duties, to pick up some of the slack against the tougher left-handers.
It's important to note that Parmelee has never hit more than 16 home runs in the minors, and Target Field has been difficult on left-handed power. Only Jim Thome managed to hit more than a dozen total home runs there during its two seasons of existence. But Parmelee is still worth a spot in every AL-only league and is someone to watch in mixed leagues.
New White Sox skipper Robin Ventura and general manager Kenny Williams have been surprisingly noncommittal when it comes to naming their closer for the start of the season, even going as far as saying that we may not know until the Sox have a save opportunity. While veteran Matt Thornton and youngster Addison Reed seem to have the inside track, perhaps the brain trust's reluctance to make a decision has something to do with Santiago, a hard-throwing left-hander with an untouchable pitch, a screwball, that acts like a right-handed curve and ties up right-handed swingers. The Newark, N.J. native also possesses a mid-90s fastball that's more than adequate to put away left-handers. This spring he's struck out 13 batters in 10 innings while allowing just one earned run for a 0.90 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Opponents are batting a measly .147 against him. While he's pitched just 5 1/3 innings over two games in the majors, that lack of experience isn't being held against him; Ventura told the Chicago Sun-Times that he has no qualms about handing the ninth-inning role over to a rookie. Undrafted in most leagues, he's certainly someone to make an immediate speculative free agent pickup of as a low-risk, high reward move.
The lowest profile international add to the major league world for 2012, the former Tokyo Yakult Swallow of the Japanese Central League has been a pleasant surprise. When Ryan Braun's suspension was rescinded it appeared that Aoki, often referred to as "the poor man's Ichiro" would have trouble finding a niche with the Brewers, who already have Braun, Nyjer Morgan, Carlos Gomez and Corey Hart manning the Miller Park outfield. But the lifetime .329 hitter has been nothing short of a revelation for manager Ron Roenicke, as he's torn up the Cactus League to the tune of .317/.358/.492, including four triples, three stolen bases and a home run off reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. With an average draft position in the 400s, he's there for any owner who wants him and is worthy of a reserve or fifth outfielder spot in NL-only leagues of 12 teams or more. And although it appears that Corey Hart will avoid the DL and begin the season on the active roster, Aoki should get enough at-bats early on both in spot starts at all three outfield stations and as a pinch hitter to justify a roster slot.
Six years removed from consecutive 1,000-yard and double-digit touchdown seasons as a Notre Dame wide receiver, the 27-year-old right-hander appears to took the right career path in eschewing football for baseball. Named a member of the Cubs rotation for the first time, Samardzija (minus one disastrous start against Colorado) was outstanding this spring, allowing just three earned runs in 16 innings with 14 strikeouts and one walk, an amazing result for someone who walked more than one batter per inning in 2010. He was a quality reliever last season, posting a 2.97 ERA with eight wins and has the chance to be a serious sleeper pitching in the much weakened NL Central.