Parker Shows No. 1 Starter Potential
ZEBULON, N.C.—Jarrod Parker is only 20 years old, but on Thursday night the Diamondbacks' righthander showed the potential to be a future ace in the major leagues.
Throwing with clean arm action and a compact, easy delivery, Parker's fastball exploded out of his hand and generally sat at 93-95 mph, touching 96 mph three times and 97 mph on his last pitch for a swinging strikeout. His late-breaking slider had Carolina's (Reds) hitters confused all night, either bailing early or whiffing at the pitch. He didn't throw too many changeups, but it was another swing-and-miss pitch that occasionally fell off the table.
Making only his second start for Double-A Mobile since being promoted from high Class A Visalia, Parker left after six innings with six strikeouts, no walks, two runs and eight hits allowed.
"He's a young kid with a lot of tools," Mobile manager Hector De La Cruz said. "At his age, he's moving quick. He needs to work on a few things still. He's a project, he's got all the tools that anybody can have to be a superstar in the big leagues, but his time will come."
Parker's first inning was spectacular. His fastball parked at 94-96 mph in the first inning, and his slider was a wipeout pitch. He opened the game with six straight fastballs to center fielder Chris Heisey—94 mph, 93, 95, 96, 96 and 95—before Heisey grounded out.
After hitting shortstop Zach Cozart with a 94 mph fastball, Parker settled back in with two of his better at-bats of the night against two of Carolina's best hitters.
Parker got ahead of third baseman Juan Francisco with a 94 mph fastball, then got to 0-2 by getting Francisco to swing and miss at another 94 mph heater. After throwing a third 94 mph fastball for a ball away, Parker broke out his first slider of the game, a nasty 84 mph pitch that broke down and into the dirt against the lefty-hitting Francisco for strike three swinging.
Parker started the next batter, Todd Frazier, with an 83 mph slider for a ball, then got Frazier to look at a 95 mph fastball and a 94 mph fastball on the outside corner to get ahead 1-2. Frazier watched a 94 mph fastball go by for a ball, then struck out swinging when Parker offered him an 82 mph slider.
"The first inning was good," Parker said. "I just wanted to set the tone, establish that I'm going to throw fastballs in and fastballs away, and then finish with my slider when I get ahead. It was a good first inning for me. Usually I can settle in after that, it's just settling down after the first to get comfortable."
Parker spent little time on the mound in the second inning, needing only six pitches to retire the side on three groundouts. Parker said he's only throwing four-seam fastballs, but he has made an adjustment that, at least through the first 121 batters he's faced this season, has helped him keep the ball on the ground, with 67 percent of his outs on balls in play coming as groundouts compared to 50 percent last year.
"I dropped my arm (slot) a little bit," Parker said. "I get out front a little more now and finish pitches. It's been getting a lot more ground balls this year than I had last year and the ball's sinking a little bit more."
Parker's slider was a plus pitch with excellent late tilt and downward action after the hitter's point of decision. Parker showed the ability to manipulate the movement on his 80-84 mph slider, generally throwing the pitch at 82-84 mph. At times the pitch had a shorter, cutter-like action to it for a get-me-over strike, while at other times the pitch had longer action to get both righthanded and lefthanded hitters to chase.
"Usually it's one of the harder pitches for me to get back coming into the season—spring training's a good time to get it back—but so far this year it's been real good. . . It's been good so far, and I've been throwing it to lefties and righties, which I'm happy with."
Parker threw only five or six changeups, but three of them induced swinging strikes and another one caught a Carolina hitter lunging out front for a weak foul ball. The 81-84 mph pitch had good separation from his fastball, and could be one reason why he hasn't shown a platoon split in his young career.
"Last year it was pretty much my equalizer in the second half—it's why I had a good second half in the Midwest League," Parker said. "I threw a lot of good changeups and then it made my fastball that much more effective. Just controlling it has been big for me. It's always been a pitch that I've thrown, but I just didn't have to use it as much as I've had here and this year in High-A. It just gets guys off from cheating on my fastball and makes it a little more effective. Throwing it to lefties and righties is big; I like to throw it to righties to keep them off it, too."
Parker also threw two curveballs early in the game at 77 and 75 mph, though it's a fourth offering at this point. Parker estimated he threw around 14 curveballs in his first Double-A start against Jacksonville to work on the pitch at the Diamondbacks' request.
"It's come a long way from where it has been," Parker said. "It's more of a slower up-and-down, versus everything hard—slider's hard, changeup's hard—so it changes the eye level up and down a little bit."
Parker wasn't perfect, but any mistakes he made should dissipate with experience facing more advanced hitters. He left a few fastballs up and out over the plate in the fourth and fifth innings that were hit hard and led to the two runs he allowed. But given Parker's youth, repeatable delivery, athleticism and track record of throwing strikes, improving his command within the strike zone shouldn't be an issue. Through six starts between high Class A and Double-A, Parker now has a 2.15 ERA in 29 1/3 innings with 32 strikeouts and five walks.
"He threw the ball good today," De La Cruz said. "He fell behind hitters at times, but he got the job done. It was impressive to see a kid at that age do what he does at this level."
• The Diamondbacks' top four prospects entering the season are on the Mobile roster, most notably Parker, right fielder Gerardo Parra and lefthanded reliever Daniel Schlereth.
Parra, who is hitting .365/.472/.500 with 21 walks and 13 strikeouts in 28 games, was impressive at the plate and in the field. Parra played center field last season, but he has noticeably filled out some this year—going from a listed weight of 186 pounds to 197 pounds—and has moved to right field, where his plus-plus arm strength plays well.
Parra, 22, has good defensive instincts and the potential to be an above-average defensive right fielder, which he showed throughout the series and in particular on Thursday night with two phenomenal diving catches.
On the first catch, Parra had to run straight back to the fence on a fly ball hit directly over his head by Justin Mallett in the bottom of the fourth inning. Parra got a good jump, then dove and caught the ball at full extension with his back to home plate, ending the inning to get Parker out of a bases loaded jam.
Parra made another diving catch in the eighth inning, this time running in on a line drive from Michael Griffin, making a difficult catch look relatively effortless.
At the plate, Parra sets up with a wide base and takes a very short stride, then unleashes a short, smooth swing with good bat speed and extension. He's a disciplined hitter whose head stays locked in throughout his swing, which helps him see the ball well and avoid swinging at pitches inches off the strike zone. His hands have always worked well, allowing him to adjust to breaking balls and hit line drives to all fields, though he did get fooled lunging out front on a couple of changeups in the series.
Power has always been a concern for scouts who watch Parra, but he has strong forearms and should have enough power to be a starting right fielder in the big leagues, with more of his value coming from his on-base skills and defensive chops than from his power.
• Though Schlereth is a reliever, he showed a well-rounded repertoire in one inning of work on Friday night that should enable him to pitch in high-leverage situations and possibly be a closer at the major league level with better command. Schlereth faced five hitters in the eighth inning, allowing one hit, one walk and no runs while striking out two.
A first-round pick (26th overall) last year out of Arizona, Schlereth has a very quick arm that pumped 93-95 mph fastballs, though he used the pitch less than 50 percent of the time. His curveball was a power pitch at 82-83 mph, a plus pitch with sharp downward action.
Schlereth could probably get by with just the fastball and the curveball, but he also showed good arm speed on his 77-79 mph changeup, which he used to strike out Heisey swinging.