Stephen Parker has been "Mr. Clutch" for the Stockton Ports throughout the 2010 season, so it seems only fitting that Parker collected the game-winning hit in the top of the ninth inning in the California League-Carolina League All-Star game on Tuesday night. With two-outs, Parker lined an RBI single off of the glove of the Carolina League shortstop to score what would be the decisive run in the California League's 4-3 win in the mid-summer classic.
Parker's overall numbers for Stockton have been spectacular this season (.299 BA/ 918 OPS), but the stats are even better when Parker is up with runners on-base (.304 BA/ 954 OPS) and runners in scoring position (.314/ 946 OPS). At the All-Star break, Parker ranked ninth in the California League in OPS, 12th in homeruns (9), eighth in OBP (.410) and third in doubles (22). He was the Ports lone All-Star representative.
Parker is taking his first half success and All-Star nod in stride.
"It was a real honor to make the team and have a good first half," Parker said on Saturday.
"I really wasn't thinking about any All-Star team or making an All-Star team. I was just worried about playing well everyday. I did that and luckily I was honored to be selected to play."
Parker's performance thus far this season is a significant improvement over his first professional stint with the Low-A Kane County Cougars last season. After being selected in the fifth round of the 2009 draft out of BYU, Parker was sent to Kane County after a short stint with the A's Arizona Rookie League team. Parker struggled with the jump from college to the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, as he hit only .244 with a 674 OPS in 70 games (256 at-bats) with the Cougars.
Parker points to the level of pitching and the challenge of going from aluminum to wood bats as the major changes he had to adjust to last season.
"Everyone is a number one [pitcher] in pro ball. The pitching is a lot better and adjustment to the wood bat. Those two things were big," Parker said.
It would be easy to look at Parker's improvement from the Midwest League last season to his performance thus far in the California League and chalk it up to the hitter-friendly nature of the Cal League. Parker acknowledges that the Cal League is more conducive to hitting, but he hasn't seen a significant change in the level of competition.
"The ball flies a lot better in the Cal League, that's for sure. Definitely a more hitters-friendly league. But I don't really notice that much of a change. I'm more focused on playing well everyday," Parker said.
Parker's improvement at the plate didn't start in the Cal League, however. It began last fall during the A's Instructional League when he drew raves from the A's coaching staff, including Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman, for the improvements he made with his batting stroke.
"It was nothing real major, just some minor adjustments. They lowered my bat angle which makes me quicker to the ball. Just some minor adjustments like that overall helped me be successful," Parker said.
"[Liepmman's] helped me out a lot and Timmy [Garland, Stockton hitting coach] and Sparky [Greg Sparks, A's minor league hitting coordinator] have helped out a lot, too. It's been good so far."
Defensively, Parker has been steady at the hot corner for Stockton all season. In 2009, Parker played first base for the Cougars, which was a new position for the Utah native, who was a third baseman in college. Parker is glad to be back at third this year.
"I'm definitely more comfortable third base. First base is still a position that I am learning and maybe in the future will learn it a little more, but third base is my spot right now, so I'm focused on that," Parker said.
The Ports finished the first half with a 31-39 record, second-to-last in their division. However, the team played much better in June, going 8-10. Parker is looking for better things from his team in the second half.
"I think we are starting to play more as a team. Everyone is starting to get more comfortable at their positions and their spots in the line-up and comfortable with the league and the pitching," Parker said.
"I think this first half wasn't exactly how we were hoping to play, but we came on strong in the end and I think that will carry over into the second half."