Cubs' Parker Getting Back On Track

CHICAGO—Age isn't on Blake Parker's side. He's 26 and failed to take advantage of his time on the 40-man roster when the man in charge was Jim Hendry, not Theo Epstein.

But Parker has doggedly kept pushing for another look and strengthened his case for big league consideration with a strong winter in the Mexican Pacific League. He was a workhorse in Hermosillo, adding 28 appearances to his 53 between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa during the 2011 season.

More importantly, Parker remained consistent with an improved slider, which he had used to hold Triple-A hitters to a .201 average last season. He used it to help produce a .195 opponent average in Mexico, which is traditionally a hitter's league.

"He got himself in good shape, and he got his slider going," farm director Oneri Fleita said. "He really put it together at the end of the year. The last two and a half months, he really firmed up, and he carried it into winter ball."

Fleita said that after Parker won a spot on the 40-man roster prior to the 2010 season, he struggled with his slider. He had trouble throwing it for strikes and when he did it was often flat, staying on one plane. He has made it a much improved pitch, and that has made him a better pitcher.

"Now he's got it," Fleita said. "Going to Mexico didn't hurt either. In trying to get a little better with your breaking ball, that's the league to go to . . . He's a very mature kid. He always had good mound presence, a good feel for the game. Now maybe he's learned to control his emotions a little bit. He's an interesting guy."

The Cubs had not announced their list of non-roster invites for spring training, but Parker seems likely to be on it. Even if he isn't, he could be used in some spring games as Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer consider whether he could add depth for the major league staff.


• The Cubs went outside the organization to add Brandon Hyde as their minor league field coordinator and James Rowson as their minor league hitting coordinator. Hyde had spent the last year and a half as the Marlins' bench coach. Rowson had spent the last four years was the Yankees' minor league hitting instructor.

• Bill Buckner, who won a batting title with the 1980 Cubs, rejoined the organization as the hitting coach for short-season Boise. Buckner has made his home in Boise since retiring as a player.