Living near a minor league stadium is always a treat, but rarely does one have the opportunity to see a pair of No. 1 prospects in their respective organizations (and highly-ranked Top 100 players as well) in the first two weeks of the season. But after seeing Mike Moustakas and the Burlington Bees in Kane County’s season opener, I jumped at the chance to head to the ballpark once again this past Wednesday, to see highly regarded Arizona right-hander Jarrod Parker make his second career pro start for the South Bend SilverHawks. I decided to bear down on his start and provide the readers with a full report, thankfully with assistance from a veteran scout who was also in attendance.
The ninth overall pick last June out of a small Indiana high school, Parker was the fastest-rising player in the 2007 draft, almost going third overall to the Cubs in light of his having arguably the best pure arm available. His size was really the only the knock against him; MLBAM has him officially listed at 6’1″ and 180 pounds, but the South Bend roster sheet is a more accurate: 5’11” and 190. While some have said he’s something like a right-handed Scott Kazmir physically, he compares much better to Houston ace Roy Oswalt, who is less lanky and more solidly built.
First, a quick primer on how I track pitches. This is not how teams do it or anything official, this is just how I keep track when I have access to gun readings. Basically, each notation has three pieces on information: TYPE-VELO-RESULT. Under Type, FB is fastball, CU is curveball, is slider; CH is changeup; Velo is simple enough. Under Result, ‘b’ stands for ball, ‘s’ for swinging strike, ‘c’ is a called strike, ‘f’ a foul ball, and ‘x’ is a ball in play. So, an 81 mph slider taken for a strike is SL81c.
With me so far? Good, let’s get going…
Corey Brown: FB93c, FB93f, FB94b, FB91b, FB94sx = Strikeout + passed ball, safe at first base.
OK, so Parker’s got a great arm, and should have started out with a strikeout, but the defense let him down, which as you’ll see in a moment really extended the inning. There’s a lot to like here with the heater; not only is the velocity excellent, the pitch also features some significant cutting action. As the scout noted, this may be a result of Parker slightly throwing across his body, but it’s not a huge concern or a Kerry Wood kind of situation here. His delivery is highly athletic, fluid, and consistent, but his command of the fastball was somewhat troubling, as the action on the pitch made it hard to throw strikes with, and it was often elevated.
Matt Ray: SL84b, FB92s, FB92f, FB92x = Hit by Pitch
The slider wasn’t bad, wasn’t great, but he continued to throw primarily off his fastball, which he still had trouble commanding, missing both inside and out. As a side note, Parker almost picked Brown off at one point. It was his only real pickoff attempt of the game, but it was a good move.
Toddric Johnson: FB92f, FB92s, FB93x = Single to left, Brown scores, Ray to second
Again, location, location, location. Ahead 0-2, Parker’s third pitch was right in the wheelhouse, and he pays for it. It’s a cliché, but even an A-Ball they can all hit fastballs. The Diamondbacks held Parker back initially in extended spring training to stretch out his arm, and it’s quite possible that his secondary pitches are still being kept under wraps as a precautionary measure.
Greg Dowling: FB93c, FB94s, FB95f, FB96f, FB95b, CU80f, FB95x = Safe on error, groundball to first base, with the throw hitting the runner going to second
Again, Parker gets ahead with two quick strikes, but his defense lets him down again. It should be first and second with two outs; instead it’s no outs, a run in, and the bases loaded. Welcome to Low-A baseball. The curve generates a sarcastic comment from the scout, who says, “I was beginning to wonder if the catcher had only one finger on his hand.” Beyond that, Parker really seems to temporarily find a groove with the heater, and was pumping some serious gas.
Jake Smith: FB93b, FB89b*, FB92x = Deep Sac Fly, F8
The ball was hit hard, but the wind helped. The official box score says “Wind: 26 mph, Out to LF,” but that sounds like an underestimate, because I was almost blown off the road on the way to the game. The asterisk is because this fastball generated some discussion between myself, the scout and some of the South Bend pitchers who were in the stands tracking pitches. Obviously, the velocity was off a bit, but it seemed to be a different pitch as well; not a pure splitter or sinker, but there was some dip to it. Maybe it’s just something Parker is experimenting with, and maybe it was a total anomaly.
Christian Vitters: FB92f, CH78b, FB93b, FB92x = Deep Sac Fly, F8
Again, the wind helps carry the ball. The changeup was in the dirt, but once again the fastballs were consistently up and consistently off the plate both, in and out.
Shane Keough: FB93c, SL87c, FB94b, FB95b, CH79b, F91b = Walk
The slider was overthrown and on a single plane; Parker continued to struggle with location.
Jonathan Johnston: FB93b, FB91f, FB92s, SL84b, FB93x = 3-1 groundout
A visit to the mound seemingly calmed Parker down. He was unable to get Johnston to chase the slider in the dirt, but finished a tough inning, much of which wasn’t his fault, throwing 37 pitches, 31 of them fastballs.
Walter Correa: FB92b, FB92s, SL83b, FB89s, SL88b, FB90x = 4-3 groundout
Parker seems to have calmed down a bit and is throwing more strikes, but it’s interesting to note that nearly every secondary pitch he throws is out of the zone.
Corey Brown: FB89x = Home run to left
I was a big Corey Brown fan before the draft, and I’m even more of one after watching him in three games so far this year, but even so, this was an environmental home run in many ways. It was still a bad pitch that was up and not especially hard, but on a normal, less windy day it’s a fairly standard fly-ball out to left.
Matt Ray: FB91f, FB92c, CU77b, FB90x – groundout to first base, 3U
Toddric Johnson: FB90b, FB92s, CH79x – F7, deep
Parker threw a lot more strikes in the second inning, but his stuff wasn’t nearly as electric, and while the second inning was far more effective, on a scouting level the first was far more impressive.
Greg Dowling: FB89x – Single to RF, out at 2nd
Jake Smith: FB91b, FB91s, CH81b, FB90x = Double into LF/CF gap
While Parker was hardly pressing or laboring at this point, is was also fairly clear that he was running out of gas. Two below-average hitters would help him get through an inning in which he didn’t top 91 mph with his fastball.
Christian Vitters: FB90b, FB90s, FB91f, SL84b, FB91s = Strikeout
Shane Keough: FB91x = 1-3 groundout
After the third, Parker’s taken out. His final line: three innings, four hits, four runs (one earned), one walk, two strikeouts. Expected to throw 60-65 pitches, Parker was pulled at 64, leaving the rest of the game to the bullpen, which got hit hard in an 8-5 loss that featured a second home run from Brown.
Once Parker was pulled, I asked the scout for a summation of what he saw. “I haven’t seen him before, and I was expecting a little more polish out of him. I certainly like his arm, but his breaking ball was below average today, although I liked the spin he generated, so there’s potential there. This is just his second pro start, and you have to give him credit for pitching in a full-season league right now when a lot of kids like him would be in extended [spring training]. That cutting movement on his fastball hinders his command of the pitch, but once he gets a better feel for it, it’s going to be a real weapon.”
My takeaway? It’s far too early to come to any conclusions on Parker off of three innings, but it’s clear that despite his struggles, he’s a significant talent.