Although Dan Haren is having a season for the ages in 2009, it’s not too early to get excited about the next great Arizona Diamondbacks' pitcher, who has yet to be formally introduced to Diamondbacks fans.
Diamondbacks fans have been fortunate to see some great pitchers throughout the franchise’s brief existence, including: Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and currently, Haren and Brandon Webb.
Well, let’s take a look at an intriguing prospect that could be just as good as some of those great hurlers: Jarrod Parker
Parker, the D-backs' first round pick (at ninth overall) in the 2007 MLB Draft, currently pitches at the Double-A level for the Mobile BayBears of the Southern League. Before we dive into Parker’s 2009 season, let’s revisit 2007 and look at the scouting reports on Parker, who was the first high school pitcher taken in the entire draft (right before Giants' top prospect Madison Bumgarner and also before Tigers' pitcher Rick Porcello).
Parker had an impressive amateur career, which included pitching for the U.S. Junior National team that took the silver medal in the World Junior Championship in Cuba, cementing his status as an early first round pick.
At the time, Parker was touted as sitting in the 95-96 range with his fastball and touching 98. Baseball America wrote that Parker "generates his exceptional velocity with an unbelievably quick arm."
One scouting director even said, "He has the best arm action of any high school pitcher in the draft, and he has drawn comparisons to a right-handed version of Scott Kazmir and to Tim Lincecum. Parker doesn't have Lincecum's untouchable curveball, but he does have a power curve with good depth and has shown a mid-80's slider."
Now let’s fast forward to 2009.
After carving up the Midwest League last year with a 12-5 record, .251 opponent’s batting average and 117/33 K/BB in 188 innings, Parker was even more dominant in his first taste of High-A at Visalia in the California League. He wasn’t there for long, earning a promotion to Double-A after just four starts in which he went 1-0 with .95 ERA and just four walks to 21 strikeouts in 19 innings.
Along with his great fastball, which still routinely hits 98, Parker throws a curve, slider, and changeup, all of which flash the ability to be above average pitches. The quality of his secondary offerings is the most significant improvement of Parker’s game since he was drafted in ’07.
Prior to getting drafted, he rarely threw any changeups (because he didn’t need them) and his curve was much more inconsistent that only flashed above-average potential. Compare that to 2009, where some scouts now say his changeup is his second-best pitch, but that is debatable.
This season, his breaking pitches in particular have taken a significant step forward, with his slider often hitting the high-80's and his curve becoming a true strikeout pitch as well.
While dispatching the more advanced Double-A hitters hasn’t come as easily for Parker, he still has compiled a respectable 3.42 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning pitched. However, it's important to remember that he is only 20 years old, young for Double-A, and in only his second full season of professional ball.
Even more important is his ability to control all four pitches to both sides of the plate.
Especially impressive for such a young pitcher is Parker’s smooth delivery that is easily repeated with great mechanics. Parker’s development of true power breaking balls to go with his fastball velocity and command, makes him an elite pitching prospect as he continues to move up the minor league ladder.
While the Tim Lincecum comparisons are not far-fetched, a better major league projection for Parker may be Roy Oswalt, the Houston Astro’s right-handed ace. Between his stature as a right-hander on the short side (for MLB purposes), advanced pitching repertoire and smooth delivery, many similarities exist between the two.
Between Single-A and Double-A in 2009, Parker has only gone 5-5, but has an overall ERA of 2.89 with just under a strikeout per inning.
Expect him to improve throughout the rest of the season and emerge as a candidate for the Diamondbacks' 2010 rotation as he, Dan Haren, and Brandon Webb could form one of the top trios of hurlers in the National League as we move into the next decade.