On Campus: Jarrett Parker

Physical development has junior poised for big season

Jarrett Parker showed up at Virginia as an athletic, live-bodied but skinny 186-pound freshman outfielder in the fall of 2007. He started 45 games the following spring but failed to hit any home runs, and his lack of physicality caused him to run out of gas down the stretch. He wound up hitting just .264/.360/.331 with seven extra-base hits.

Parker was scheduled to play summer ball after the season ended, but instead he told Virginia coach Brian O'Connor that he believed the best thing for his development would be to remain in Charlottesville and dedicate himself to lifting weights and gaining strength.

"He added 20 pounds that summer, then came out that sophomore year and was a completely different player," O'Connor said. "It made a huge difference in his game. In my coaching career, I've never seen a player make a bigger jump in a one-year period."

Parker's home run total spiked from zero to 16. He hit .355/.450/.664 with 65 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 25 attempts en route to second-team All-America honors.

Since last season ended, Parker has added about 10 more pounds, boosting his weight to 215 pounds. But remarkably, he has not lost any athleticism. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"He hasn't lost a step in his running speed," O'Connor said. "He's actually, I think, even more explosive than he was his freshman year. He's done a great job putting the muscle and the strength on, but not losing his flexibility and athleticism."

One secret: Parker does yoga about once per week. He also works with Virginia's nutritionist, Rob Skinner, to make sure he is eating healthy foods.

"I'm just trying to get a lot of nutrients in my system—a lot of potatoes, carbs, proteins," Parker said. "I just make sure to try to get more than three meals a day in, and when I do eat it's a pretty good portion of food."

It sounds simple, but then Parker makes everything look easier than it is. A 6-foot-4 specimen, Parker glides through center field to track down balls that looked like sure-fire extra-base hits off the bat. His balanced lefthanded swing generates easy power. His above-average speed makes him a menace on the basepaths. It's no wonder scouts project Parker as a potential first-round pick in June—and major league scouting directors voted him onto the preseason All-America first team.

"He really gets his weight back well and uses his hands well," a National League area scout said. "He has good extension in his swing and a patient approach. There are no red flags in his hitting mechanics. And his arm looks good."

That's not to say Parker doesn't have some rough edges to smooth out. For one thing, some scouts are concerned about his strikeout rate; he whiffed 80 times in 265 at-bats as a sophomore. He also struggled mightily in the Cape Cod League last summer, batting .188/.361/.313 with one homer and 37 strikeouts in 96 at-bats, though he also drew 22 walks. Parker said fatigue played a role in his rough summer—not surprising given the length of his spring season, which did not conclude until June 17 because the Cavaliers made their first-ever trip to the College World Series.

"We had been playing that whole season, and I hadn't been used to playing that long before," he said. "It's the top summer league in the nation, it's a tough league. You have to get used to it, because you're going to fail, and you're going to fail a lot there. That's something I had trouble adjusting to, but in the end I took it as a positive experience. Baseball's a game of highs and lows, and you've got to stay in the middle."

Parker has no trouble keeping an even keel. He is quietly intense on the field but very laid-back off it, and he spends his free time kicking back and joking around with roommates John Barr, Phil Gosselin and Tyler Wilson—all fellow upperclassmen on the UVa. baseball team.

O'Connor raves about Parker's work ethic, and the coach is convinced his game will continue to evolve as he matures. Already in 2010, Parker's progress is evident. He got off to a solid start, hitting .400/.500/.600 with just three strikeouts and three walks through seven games.

"I know he's worked hard on making adjustments," O'Connor said. "I don't want him to cut down his swing or change his approach to worry about cutting down the strikeouts. He's a dynamic player because he's an aggressive player, he hits the ball with power, and he hits the ball with authority. I believe his strikeouts will come down because he's more mature and he can make adjustments quicker. His confidence level, his ability to make adjustments, is much, much higher than in the past.

"The jump that he made from his freshman to his sophomore year has been well documented, and I think he'll be even better this season. But I don't know if we'll know how good he can truly be until he's 25, 26 years old. He's just one of those guys who is a late bloomer, and the sky is the limit."