Stephen Parker's initial foray into professional baseball was somewhat disappointing. The Oakland A's 2009 fifth-round pick out of BYU was assigned to the Low-A Kane County Cougars soon after signing with the A's, but he struggled at the plate for much of his stint in the Midwest League, batting only .243 with five homers and a 674 OPS in 70 games.
Parker began to turn it around immediately after the 2009 regular season ended, however. He was a star pupil at the A's fall Instructional League and had A's coaches raving about his swing. Parker followed Instructs with a strong showing in spring training, and he earned a jump to High-A Stockton on Opening Day despite his struggles in Kane County the previous season.
After a slow first two weeks of the season, Parker has proven that the A's confidence in him was not ill-placed. Parker has been arguably the Ports most consistent hitter this season, never posting an OPS lower than 825 in any month. Overall, Parker is batting .293 with 19 homers, 87 RBIs and an 894 OPS in 127 games. He ranks third in the Cal League in walks (75), seventh in OPS, ninth in homeruns, fifth in RBIs, fourth in doubles and eighth in on-base percentage (.388). He was named to the California League's midseason All-Star team and has helped lead the Ports to a three-game lead in the second half division title standings (the Ports are also tied for the wild card spot).
Parker spoke with OaklandClubhouse.com on Tuesday about his first full season, the Ports' recent 14-game winning streak and more…
OaklandClubhouse: You guys just recently completed a 14-game winning streak. Is that the longest winning streak you've ever been a part of?
Stephen Parker: I believe so. I can't think of a team that I have been on that has won 14 straight games. It was two straight weeks of just winning. It was pretty cool.
OC: Has it changed the outlook in the clubhouse now that you guys went from being on the outskirts of the playoff chase to being right in the middle of it?
SP: Yeah, definitely. We gained a bunch of confidence. Our pitchers pitched really well during that two-week span and I think they gained a lot of confidence. Our clubhouse atmosphere was great. Everyone was relaxed and playing the way that we know that we are capable of playing. It was really great to have that winning streak going into potentially making the playoffs and I think it is good to have that confidence going late into the season.
OC: The current roster has been together for much of the season. Do you think that is helping the team at this point in the season that you have been playing together this long?
SP: Yeah it definitely has helped. We've basically had the same line-up all season. We've had a few pitchers come and go, but basically the same team. It's been good to be together for this whole six months to really learn how everybody operates and how everybody plays. We've really started to play as a team and it's been really good.
OC: You're obviously in the middle of a very strong season. Looking at your stat-sheet, you have stayed pretty consistent from month-to-month. Do you feel like you've had a swing that you liked from the beginning of the season or it is something that has improved as the year has gone on?
SP: Early on I started off a little slow. I had to make a couple of minor adjustments. But once I got comfortable with the league and the surroundings and just playing baseball again, I felt like it was back to the same game I had played my whole life. I've felt really consistent the whole year. I don't feel like I have dipped into any deep slumps or had any really high moments. I've just been consistent the whole year. That's how I've played my whole life.
OC: You are currently third in the California League in walks. Is that something that has always been a big part of your game, even dating back to college?
SP: Yeah, I've always been a selective hitter. I tend to walk a lot because I choose the pitches that I want to hit. If I don't like a pitch, I don't swing at it. A lot of times if it is a ball, I feel like I have a pretty good strike-zone judgment, so that turns into a lot of walks.
OC: Have you learned a lot between your stint with Kane County last year and now?
SP: Back in Kane, I think it was just a matter of getting used to a different style of baseball. It is different from college. Going to a wood bat and playing everyday, it was definitely a transition. Going into my first spring training and Instructs helped out a lot to kind of settle in and get comfortable with professional baseball. Once I did that, I think I kind of calmed down and just focused on playing well and it has been great so far.
OC: Do you have fall or winter league plans?
SP: I'm not sure yet. I'm assuming I'll go play somewhere, but I'm not 100 percent sure where yet. [Note: A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman has indicated that Parker is a candidate to play in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.]
OC: How about defensively? You played a lot of first base at Kane County, but I know that you are a natural third baseman. How do you feel like your defense at third has progressed this season?
SP: I feel real confident and comfortable at third base, even though I have made a few errors here and there. I have been working hard everyday to be more accurate with my throws. I feel like if I can improve on my throws and the accuracy of my throws, the errors will come down as time goes on. But I feel like I am making strides at third everyday.
OC: You, Grant Green and Michael Spina have formed a pretty formidable middle of that Stockton line-up. With you being the left-handed hitter between the three, does it help you to have a hitter like Green hitting in front of you and a hitter like Spina hitting behind you?
SP: It definitely does. Having a solid hitter in front of me helps and having Spina behind me, who is a big power bat, definitely helps. The other teams have to pitch me a certain way because if they put me on base, they have to deal with Spina. It definitely helps out. Every person in the line-up helps out another person in the line-up. It's good to have a solid line-up one through nine.
OC: Your numbers with runners on-base (.320/.417/.594) and runners in scoring position (.346/.457/.638) are really strong. Does your approach change at all when you know you have a runner you can drive-in?
SP: Not really. I try to have the same approach from at-bat to at-bat. I feel like sometimes if I try to change my approach I get into trouble and do something I shouldn't be doing. I kind of think up the middle and make solid contact each time.
OC: The season has only a few weeks left. Are there goals that you set for yourself that you have already accomplished or goals you are still looking to meet by the end of the season?
SP: I don't really like to set goals numbers-wise. I just always like to have good at-bats. I could be stronger with two-strikes. And definitely I always want to improve defensively. The major team goal right now is to make the playoffs, so I think we are really focused on that right now.
OC: Is moving up a level during the season important to you or is that something that you don't really worry about?
SP: It's always in the back of your mind. You always want to be moving up, but it's nothing that I can control. It's a decision that the organization has, so I really can't worry about it. I just have to worry about playing well and if I play well and do the things I'm supposed to be doing, the team will move me up when they feel that I am ready.
OC: One of the guys who was recently added to the team is your college teammate Kent Walton. Has it been fun to have someone on the team you played with in the past?
SP: Yeah definitely. It's been great having Kent here. Being an extra outfielder, he's been a good bat in the line-up and a good bat off the bench. It's been good having a familiar face around. It's been fun.
OC: Have you been able to have your family come out from Utah to see you play?
SP: Yes. My parents and my little sister came out for the Rancho series a couple of weeks ago. It was really good to see them.