Who The A's Gave Up
Stephen Parker has been a member of the A's organization since being selected in the fifth round of the 2009 MLB draft out of BYU. The Utah native was considered an advanced hitting prospect when he was selected and he spent most of his professional debut season playing first base for the Low-A Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League. Although Parker hit only .244/.312/.362 in 254 at-bats with the Cougars, the A's liked Parker's approach and his work in that fall's Instructional League enough to send him to High-A Stockton in 2010.
The 2010 season with the Ports was Parker's best as a professional to date. He was part of a powerful Stockton line-up that included 2009 top-pick Grant Green, and Parker was arguably the Ports' top hitter that season. Parker was consistently solid throughout the 2010 season and he finished the year with a .296/.398/.508 line. Parker hit 21 homers that season and walked 84 times.
Parker's numbers dipped some in 2011 with the Double-A Midland Rockhounds, but he still put together a respectable .286/.373/.413 line in 132 games. The biggest drop-off in Parker's game was with his power numbers, not an unusual occurrence for players moving from the California League to the Texas League. He made his Triple-A debut during the final two weeks of the 2011 regular season.
At the start of the 2012 season, it appeared that there might be an opening for Parker to make his move towards the major leagues. As A's 3B starter Josh Donaldson struggled at the plate in the big leagues, Parker got off to a hot start for Triple-A Sacramento. In 21 April games, Parker hit .292/.407/.431. The A's didn't make a move until late in the month, however, sending Donaldson back to Triple-A. By then, Parker's bat was starting to cool and the A's decided to go with major league veterans, trying Luke Hughes first before settling on Brandon Inge.
Parker struggled during the month of May and it was Donaldson who received the promotion back to Oakland when Inge went down with a hamstring injury. Although Parker swung a hot bat in June, the A's didn't call his name when there were openings that month. Parker's playing time decreased some in July and August and his bat cooled considerably. He finished the year with a disappointing .256/.327/.390 line in a career-low (for a full season) 328 at-bats.
Although his strike-out totals have always been on the high-side, Parker has had good strike-zone judgment throughout most of his minor league career. Until his 2012 season, Parker was always one of the most patient hitters in the A's system. He doesn't have the pure power of an elite corner infield prospect, but Parker has shown he can reach the seats on occasion and he has a gap approach that should lead to a lot of doubles. Defensively, Parker has a decent arm and he is a good athlete, but he has yet to master the footwork necessary to play third base at the big league level.
Who The A's Received
Although he is only 26 years old, Darren Byrd has been in professional baseball for eight seasons. The native of Pensacola, Florida, was an 18th-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2005 out of high school. He remained in the Phillies' organization through the 2009 season. The highest level that Byrd reached with the Phillies was High-A.
Byrd was released after the 2009 season and he began the 2010 campaign in independent ball before signing as a free agent with the Milwaukee Brewers. He made 11 starts and two relief appearances for the Brewers' High-A affiliate that season, posting a 4.18 ERA with a 41:16 K:BB ratio in 60.1 innings.
In 2011, the Brewers moved Byrd from the rotation to the bullpen and the move paid immediate dividends. He posted a 2.95 ERA and struck-out 50 in 64 innings for the Brewers' Double-A team that season. He improved upon those numbers in 2012 with Huntsville. In a career-best 50 appearances, Byrd posted a 2.59 ERA and he struck-out 71 in 73 innings. His walk rate was an ugly 4.4 per nine innings, but he still averaged nearly two strike-outs for every walk.
Command has been Byrd's biggest issue as a pro. He has a career 3.6 BB/9 rate and a 1.80 K/BB rate. He is a groundball pitcher and he allowed only two homeruns last season.
Byrd was a non-roster invitee to spring training for the Brewers this season, but he saw limited action in big league spring games. He is a three-pitch pitcher (fastball, slider, curveball) and he can reach the 91-94 MPH range with his fastball. His ability to generate a lot of groundballs is likely what endeared him most to the A's front office.
The right-hander has been durable throughout his career. He has never pitched above the Double-A level during the regular season.
Why The Deal Was Made
As with most deals involving non-roster minor league players, this deal was all about depth charts. The Brewers and A's both had needs in their minor league depth chart that Parker and Byrd will be able to fill. The trade also helps clear some room in the upper levels of the A's system at the third base position.
The biggest reason Parker's name wasn't called to fill the A's third base vacancy last season didn't have to do with his bat. The A's weren't comfortable that Parker was ready to handle the hot corner defensively at the start of last season, preferring instead the slick-fielding Donaldson. Donaldson solidified his spot on the A's roster with his play over the final six weeks of the major league regular season, leaving Parker without a clear path to the big leagues in the A's organization.
In the Brewers system, Parker should receive plenty of at-bats with Triple-A Nashville this season. He may also move back to first base, where he played in 2009. Milwaukee recently granted former A's shortstop Bobby Crosby his release and Parker could receive the at-bats that Crosby would have had had at the corner infield spots had he accepted an assignment to Triple-A. The Brewers have also seen infielders Taylor Green and Donnie Murphy (another former A's infielder) struggle this spring and starting first baseman Corey Hart go down with a knee injury. Parker could move quickly up the Milwaukee depth chart if he plays well early for Nashville.
The A's have added a significant amount of infield depth over the past year, and it wasn't clear how the A's were going to spread out the at-bats at third base at the Double-A and Triple-A levels with Parker still in the system. Over the past 15 months, the A's have added infielders Miles Head, Jefry Marte, Tom Mendonca, Andy Parrino, Scott Moore, Darwin Perez and Antonio Lamas. All seven can play third base, and it is the primary position for Mendonca, Head and Marte.
Even with Parker in Milwaukee, the A's are going to have to figure out a way to distribute at-bats amongst several talented infielders at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. In addition to the aforementioned seven infielders, the A's could be working in Grant Green and Eric Sogard (should he not make the A's roster) into the third base mix at the Triple-A level, and Tony Thompson could be competing for third base at-bats at the Double-A level. Tyler Ladendorf and Josh Horton will also need at-bats and they can play all of the infield positions (minus first base), including third base.
Byrd will add bullpen depth for the A's in the upper levels of their system. Given how frequently the A's have dipped into their minor league system for relief help the past few years, Byrd's addition could wind-up being vital for Oakland as the year progresses. Even if he starts the year in Double-A, Byrd could be a factor for the A's if he can improve his command and can continue to generate groundballs at a high rate.
Since the start of spring, the A's have lost two pitchers that they expected to fill roles for them either in Triple-A or the big leagues: RHP Fernando Rodriguez (elbow injury) and LHP Garrett Olson (released so he could pursue an opportunity in Korea). The A's recently added minor league veteran Sergio Perez to fill some of the starting rotation innings that Olson was expected to fill, and Byrd should replace some of the innings Rodriguez would have thrown (or the innings that another pitcher would have thrown in Triple-A or Double-A had Rodriguez made the A's Opening Day roster). Byrd will be a minor league free agent at the end of the season, so the A's will have this year to evaluate him and decide whether to add him to their 40-man roster.