Right-handed pitcher Jarrod Parker was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks ninth overall in the 2007 MLB Amateur June Draft. A favorite of (then) GM John Byrnes and Arizona’s scouting department, Parker signed at big-league contract, that included a $2.1 million singing bonus, with the D’Backs at the August 15th deadline.
Considered the second best (draft-eligible) high school pitcher in the nation behind Rick Porcello, Parker had a record-setting career at Indiana’s Wayne and Norwell High Schools. After going 8-1 with a .76 ERA in his junior year, Parker joined seventeen other high school ballplayers on Team USA’s ’06 Junior National Team and posted a .77 ERA through 11 2/3 innings on the Olympic circuit. In his senior season, Parker went 12-0 and allowed just 1 earned run (.13 ERA) while striking out 116 batters in 70 innings pitched. He led Norwell to a perfect 35-0 record and the Class 3A State Championship before taking home honors as Indian’s Mr. Baseball, the Louisville Slugger State High School Player of the Year and Gatorade Player of the Year.
Parker spent his first two professional seasons dominating some of baseball’s most hitter friendly leagues before going down with an elbow injury. While pitching in the Midwest League in 2008, Parker went 12-5 with 117 strikeouts and walked only 33; he was subsequently promoted to the California League for the following season. Visalia turned out to be nothing more than a brief pit stop for the young phenom, as it took him a mere 4 starts—and a sub-1.00 ERA– to prove he was ready for the more-advanced Southern League.
The majority of Parker’s 2009 campaign was spent pitching for the Mobile Bay Bears. While with the Bay Bears, Parker made the Southern League’s Mid-Season All-Star team and was also selected to pitch in the Futures Game. However, by the end of his highly successful ’09 run, Parker’s fastball velocity had dropped and his effectiveness had tailed off. Though he was slated to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and for Team USA that fall, Parker was forced to end his season early with forearm tightness. Following the abrupt end to his season, Parker went under the knife for Tommy John Surgery in October, and as a result missed the entire 2010 season while rehabbing.
Parker’s stuff rates with any pitching prospect in baseball. Before drafted Trevor Bauer, his fastball and slider rank as the two best pitches in the Diamondbacks’ farm system. Prior to TJ surgery, Parker’s explosive fastball was firmly sitting in the mid-90s and touching 96-97 MPH. His easy delivery and lightning-quick arm action adds deception to all of his pitches and makes it extremely difficult for opposing hitters to catch up to his premium velocity. He’s harnessed control of his heater and he can blow it past hitters up in the zone as well as he can pitch to either corner of the plate. He’s extraordinarily adept at jamming hitters and he often forces weak contact by cutting and running his fastball in-on the hands of opposing hitters.
For a power-pitcher, Parker can spot his four-seam and two-seam fastballs surprisingly well. He throws his fastball to both sides of the plate and does a nice job keeping the pitch just below the knees. Using his one-year injury lay-off to hone his repertoire, Parker has developed good feel for his tailing two-seamer and he likes to use it’s riding movement to buckle right-handed hitters on the outside of the plate. Though his inconsistent mechanics can sabotage his command, as he’s susceptible to opening his front shoulder too early, he continues to work hard on his (previously) suspect delivery. Returning to the mound with stronger legs and a more balanced delivery, he made leeway with his mechanics in the second-half of 2011.
While Parker’s premium fastball lights up radar guns, his Frisbee slider is actually his best pitch. Sitting between 81-84 mph, with sharp, two-plane break, his slider rates plus-plus on the 20-80 scouting scale and should be a consistent 70 (rated) pitch once any post-surgery, lingering elbow stiffness subsides. Much of the success he has enjoyed vs. righty batters throughout his career can be attributed to his slider. With a highly similar release to that of his fastball, his buzzsaw slider embodies “wipe-out pitch” and will guarantee him success against advanced big league batters. If injury or durability concerns eventually move him to the bullpen, his fastball/slider combo could make him a top-tier closer
While his power fastball and filthy slider make him a top pitching prospect, the changeup that Parker developed during the 2009 season has made him a complete pitcher and future ace. While he has always dominated right-handed batters, Parker previously had trouble against pull-hitting lefties. He has good feel for changing speeds and using his change to neutralize veteran left-handed hitters. Now that he’s honed his command, his change rates solid-average and features good two-seam fade, arming him with another groundball-inducing weapon..
Before Tommy John surgery, Parker was developing at a whirlwind pace. However, with this recent elbow injury and questions concerning his small body type, Parker is left with some doubt clouding his future. While MiLB.com lists his height/weight as “6’1” / 195 LBS, he’s probably closer to 5’11” and 175 lbs. He’s in good shape and he’s cleaned up his delivery, though snapping off his nasty, hard slider with an elbow-heavy release will make him a hefty injury risk under a big league starters’ workload. Though Parker’s changeup, high pitching IQ and overall development have improved his groundball rates –to become a true ace– he’ll need to maintain his efficient approach if he wants to suppress big league lineups into the late innings of his starts.
Beyond durability concerns, Parker’s stock comes with minor questions. Because he’s a shorter pitcher with a power repertoire, Parker will need to stay on top of his fastball and focus on using his two-seamer more in the big leagues. His fastball’s extra movement and his comfort changing speeds is important to taking his success to the American League. To keep opposing batters from lofting his pitches– especially left-handed hitters — his changeup is an important complement to his slider.
Though he is a power pitcher, Parker has a knack for inducing ground balls and keeping the ball in the park. Under this style, when he reaches the big leagues he’ll need a strong defense behind him to reach full potential in producing outs. On the plus side, his annually improving groundball rates and continued success in hitters’ leagues do suggest that he’ll be able to avoid the long-ball far better than most short, power-pitchers. However, Parker’s smallish stature, combined with his rate of balls in play, do reduce his already less-than-intimidating mound presence, and he needs to develop a killer instinct if he wants to put away the MLB’s more seasoned hitters.
These days, righties like Jarrod Parker are a rarity. Armed with premium heat, a knockout breaking pitch, a solid-average change and above-average command, the young pitcher has the tools to be an ace. His immense talent will probably take his career down one of two paths: (#1) if he can stay healthy, he will be a premier groundball/strikeout pitcher similar to a young Tim Hudson or Matt Clement; Or (#2), if his small frame and recent elbow injury are indicators of his future durability, he’ll be another tease– sort of like the A’s second-coming of Rich Harden. In the short term, Jarrod Parker will try to build on his solid five-inning MLB debut and will compete for one of Oakland’s rotation open rotation spots this Spring.