Kevin Parada Is The Latest Star In Georgia Tech Catching Pipeline
If Darlene Parada had her way, her son Kevin would never have become a catcher.
Parada remembers his mother telling him when he was about 7 or 8 that he couldn’t be a catcher. He was insistent on trying the position, however, so his mother relented.
“My mom was like, ‘You know what, he’s probably going to block his first ball and realize he doesn’t want to be a catcher,’ ” Parada said. “I was the total opposite of that.”
Parada’s stubborn insistence on catching paid off. This year, the Georgia Tech sophomore was voted as a Preseason All-American catcher by MLB scouting departments and could be drafted in the top 10 picks in July. He is the latest star to come out of Georgia Tech’s catching pipeline, which has also produced Jason Varitek, Matt Wieters and Joey Bart over the last 30 years.
Parada has the pedigree, performance and tools to be a top draft pick. His play has him on an early All-America track, and a month into the season he was hitting .455/.556/.909 with eight home runs in 16 games. He had walked 13 times and struck out just six. With him anchoring the lineup, the Yellow Jackets look like serious contenders in the Atlantic Coast Conference and beyond.
Parada has his sights set on Omaha and the College World Series, which Georgia Tech hasn’t reached since 2006.
“My biggest (goal) is to win, compete and hopefully get to Omaha,” he said. “I know that’s everybody’s goal with a college team, but that’s my biggest goal this year—to have fun and go win ballgames and get to that point that I can say I made it to a College World Series—and hopefully get a shot at winning one.”
Parada grew up in Pasadena, Calif., far from Georgia Tech’s campus in midtown Atlanta. After his early beginnings as a catcher, he kept growing and developing to become one of the top catchers in the 2020 prep class. When it came time to look at colleges, he knew he wanted to get away from home.
Around that same time, Mike Nickeas, then a Georgia Tech assistant coach and former Yellow Jackets and MLB catcher, saw Parada at a workout and told longtime Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall that they needed to recruit him. Parada was familiar with the Atlanta area from playing travel tournaments there and enjoyed it. Soon, he also would be struck by the school and Hall.
“Between those three things, it fell right in place,” Parada said. “They made me feel like family, which is very important to me.”
Parada kept getting better and better after he committed, and going into the 2020 draft it was no sure thing that he would make it to school. But he held to his commitment and became one of the most high-profile players to go undrafted in the abbreviated, five-round 2020 draft.
Being from across the country, Parada didn’t grow up hearing much about the Georgia Tech catching pipeline. He committed to the program during Bart’s junior year, as Bart was breaking out and heading toward being the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2018. From then on, Parada started hearing more and more about the tradition, and it’s now one that he’s eager to uphold.
“Once I got to school,” Parada said, “you start looking up on the boards and you’re like Varitek, Wieters, Joey Bart. You name it, they went here. Now I understand why coach Hall has always put such an emphasis on having a good catcher. When you look at the names, it makes sense, a lot of them played in the big leagues for a while, or at least had the chance. It’s a legacy that I really want to continue.”
The catching tradition at Georgia Tech dates to Varitek, who was named College Player of the Year in 1994. He was drafted 14th overall that year—Hall’s first season in Atlanta—and he started a streak of every Yellow Jackets starting catcher being drafted, 15 in all. Parada, who is draft-eligible this year because he turns 21 in August, is sure to extend that streak in July.
Hall is very proud of the catching tradition Georgia Tech has built. He was not a catcher during his playing days at Miami (Ohio), but he developed an understanding of how important the position is early in his coaching career as an assistant at Michigan in the 1980s. He made catching a priority in recruiting when he got his first head coaching job at Kent State in 1988, a philosophy that he continues today. He’s also always made sure to have a catcher on his coaching staff—many of whom have played for him.
“I never caught. I’m not a catching coach, so to speak,” Hall said. “I’ve always tried to have someone who’s familiar with that position, because other than pitching it’s the hardest position to play on the field.”
Working with Parada now is assistant coach Zeke Pinkham, who caught at Louisville. The training they have done is especially important for Parada, who has always been known as a bat-first catcher. Showing evaluators he can handle all the ins and outs of the position is critical as he looks to climb draft boards.
Parada is a good athlete. That plays well behind the plate in his blocking and receiving. His throwing is what gives scouts the most pause in their evaluation. A month into the season, he had thrown out two of 13 basestealers after throwing out seven of 59 last year.
Like every young catcher, Parada also needs more experience calling a game and managing a pitching staff, though his work with the powerful Yellow Jackets arms has been strong.
“His catching is getting better,” Hall said. “The thing that’s a work in progress—and I’m seeing the progress—is the throwing arm. There aren’t many guys who steal bases in the big leagues anymore, so I think if you can catch, block, call the game—that’s the next step for him. He has a high baseball IQ. That will become easy for him.”
Parada wants to improve defensively. He spent part of last summer playing with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and working with Jerry Weinstein, one of the most respected catching coaches in baseball. Weinstein helped Parada start using the one-knee setup more often and improve his game management.
“It’s fun for me, especially now at this level,” Parada said. “The calling the game, that type of stuff is so interesting to me. It’s the game within a game that not everybody will understand but is interesting to me.”
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While there are some concerns about Parada’s defense, there are few about his work at the plate. He has a long track record of hitting and an explosive swing that does lots of damage. As a freshman, he hit .318/.379/.550 with nine home runs and 20 doubles, which ranked second in the ACC.
Parada’s start to his sophomore season was even better. He showed more power, nearly equaling his home run total in just 16 games. He said he got stronger in the offseason, adding about 10-15 pounds, which has helped him power more balls over the fence, but he also credited a refined approach for his power surge.
“Last year, it was my first year, I was a little more gung-ho, swing freely,” Parada said. “But this year it’s more about: Guy makes a mistake, that’s the ball I hammer. I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve hit more homers. For the most part, I’m swinging at better pitches and making better swing decisions.”
Parada isn’t just crushing hanging breaking balls. He’s shown impressive plate coverage and the ability to drive pitches out to all fields. More than anything, he simply squares the ball up consistently and makes hard contact.
“The basic thing is just trying to be as athletic as I can in the box,” Parada said. “My goal is to consistently hit balls hard, backspinning them from gap to gap. It goes out of the ballpark, (then) it goes out of the ballpark.”
It’s the same basic hitting philosophy that has made Parada stand out throughout his amateur career. Now that he’s gotten stronger and made some of those adjustments to his approach, he’s become an even bigger terror at the plate.
That’s bad news for pitchers across the country.
“Nothing surprises me that he does,” Hall said. “But there’s moments that it’s like, ‘Oh my god, how did he do that?’
“My opinion, and it’s just my opinion: He’s a major league hitter. He’s going to hit.”