Name: Jarrod Parker
Draft: 9th overall, 2007
Position: Right Handed Pitcher
Weight: 180 lbs
History: Jarrod Parker waited as long as he could before signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks with a $2.1 million bonus last August. You can compare that to the $3 million bonus that Max Scherzer received from the Diamondbacks two slots later the year before and ask, "what gives?" But Parker himself didn't complain.
"Some of the first round deals this year were outrageous," Parker admitted to FutureBacks the day after signing. "I figure they can get their money now, but in the future, I just want to make it in the bigs."
The Diamondbacks remained cautious with Parker, not allowing him to throw a pitch again until the Fall Instructional League. There, the Diamondbacks' player development staff was in awe of what they saw.
"He showed why he was #1," said Tony Perezchica. "He throws the ball hard, and he's got an idea of how to command the strike zone. He's very impressive for what I saw for his first year in professional baseball."
Parker was so impressive that the organization couldn't hold him back in Extended Spring Training for long at the start of this season. The Midwest native made his pro debut on April 11th in Quad Cities, Iowa. The weather at game time was listed at 41 degrees with rain and 25 MPH wind gusts.
"It wasn't the optimum time to do it, but when is it? We had to get the first one out, and I know it's not going to be winter here for the entire year," South Bend manager Mark Haley told us when we asked him about the reasoning behind this timing. "It was a tough situation, but he's a tough kid."
Parker struggled a bit with his command in both that start and his second one. That isn't evident from his walk totals, but he was falling behind hitters with his secondary pitches, and they were hitting his fastball with wind-assisted results.
"I didn't really think about the weather; I was just excited to get out and throw," Parker confided about his debut. "At the same time, it was a rough start."
Two rough starts is all that Parker has had to endure so far. His arm is stretched out from his initial pitch count of 65 to around 75, and even though he has struck out plenty of hitters, his focus has been to pitch to contact against these relatively advanced Midwest League hitters so that he can work deeper into games.
"Just try to get ahead and not get into any counts deep," Parker said of his approach. "It's wood bats, but the hitters, they're well above what I've faced, so they can handle wood bats as well as those kids can handle metal."
Unfortunately for Midwest League hitters, they cannot handle Parker.
Makeup: Part of what makes Parker so special is the professional manner in which he has shouldered all of the scrutiny and attention that he has received merited by his abilities. Even the constant Roy Oswalt tags aren't going to his head.
"He's such an amazing pitcher that just to be compared to him is pretty great," Parker said modestly.
Let's instead compare him to another top high school pick that the Diamondbacks debuted in South Bend: Justin Upton. Upton is tearing up the major leagues now, so it's easy to forget that he struggled in his professional debut with the Silver Hawks. Parker, on the other hand, is living up to his expectations almost immediately.
"Jarrod Parker should go out and pitch well," stated Tom Allison, the man responsible for drafting Parker. "He's done that."
"I'm more impressed with his makeup than I am with his great arm, effortless velocity, and great pitches," said Haley. "His makeup itself is going to get him to where he wants to be in this game for a long time."
"I know one thing: he's very poised for his age," said Perezchica. "And of course, he's got plus-stuff. He's got a plus-fastball, he's going to have a plus-breaking ball, but a kid who can command the strike zone at that age is a big plus."
Pitches: Fastball, Curveball, Slider, and Changeup
Parker's fastball is famous for reaching 98 miles per hour on occasion, but he throws 92-95 effortlessly. Scouts that question his durability because of his size shouldn't, because Parker uses fluid, repeatable mechanics that do not appear to put much stress on his arm.
"It doesn't really make a difference in baseball," Parker said of the size issue. "Probably football or basketball, but not baseball."
Not only does his fastball have that great zip to it, but it also has explosive cutting action. Unfathomably, Parker is often able to command that pitch well, regardless of the extreme speed and movement.
Of Parker's breaking pitches, the curveball is further ahead than the slider is, but he is throwing the slider more often right now to develop it. The slider ranges inconsistently throughout the mid-80s, is rarely thrown for a strike, and gets just average movement. The curveball has a nice spin on it, but it isn't exactly falling off the table yet. It has been clocked anywhere between 77 and 80 MPH.
Some scouts say that Parker's changeup is his second best pitch. He throws it at about the same speed as his curveball, and with similar arm action to his fastball.
Major League Clone: Johnny Cueto
Prediction: It's hard to believe that Parker fell to the ninth pick in the draft. He already has one of the better fastballs in all of professional baseball and good potential for at least two solid complimentary pitches. More importantly, his excellent mechanics make him a low-injury risk despite his size. There's little reason to think that Parker won't be a top-flight pitcher in the majors someday soon.
ETA: Last year, Mark Haley allowed 19-year old control artist Brett Anderson (now with Oakland) to work a little deeper into games than he has with Parker this season. Anderson even shot up to Hi-A Visalia by the All-Star break. Why the extra caution with Parker, and how soon can we expect him to advance?
"They're different kinds of pitchers," explained Haley. "With a power arm like that, you've got to be a little more delicate with it. With any arm, really, but for him, we just don't want to [risk injury] because I can foresee him pitching in the big leagues pretty quickly."
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