With Angel Pagan on the disabled list, Gregor Blanco is the next man up to play left field for the San Francisco Giants. We know what Blanco offers—excellent defense and a poor man’s Pagan at the plate. That’s nice for a fourth outfielder. But to start every day? This would appear to be a great time to get Jarrett Parker a bundle of at-bats, especially in Colorado’s thin air, where curve balls don’t break as hard and fly balls don’t stay in the yard.
Parker started the season at Triple-A Sacramento about as cold as a hitter could be. Through his first nine games, he had four hits in 34 at-bats, giving him a .118 average. None of those hits went for extra bases, and his first RBI didn’t come until the ninth game.
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But by the time he was called up to San Francisco on Tuesday, he was batting .281 and his 13 home runs were tied for the most in the Pacific Coast League. And that’s while spending a few days up in the Big Leagues earlier in the season.
So, how did that happen? After those first nine games, Parker batted .337 and hit 13 home runs in his next 101 at-bats. (That’s one bomb every 7.8 at-bats!) He also walked 14 times and was hit by a couple pitches after the early-season slump, giving him a robust .427 on-base percentage in his last 27 games in Triple-A.
Also, after striking out in half of those first 34 at-bats, he whiffed in just a fourth of his at-bats. Parker has always had, and probably always will have, a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. He showed that in his cup of coffee with the Giants last September, when he struck out 21 times in 49 at-bats—which was roughly the same K-rate he had in Triple-A before his call-up.
The Giants might already have their minds made up about what kind of player Parker is (presumably one with limited Major League upside), but with the lineup struggling to score runs, with Pagan out at least two weeks with a hamstring injury and Hunter Pence nursing a hamstring strain of his own (meaning there are plenty of at-bats currently available in the outfield), it wouldn’t hurt to see if his hot hitting can carry over and spark the offense. In his brief time in San Francisco this season, Parker has two hits in 11 at-bats, with a home run and three strikeouts.
So, why wouldn’t Parker thrive in the Majors?
Probably for the same general reasons why someone like John Bowker, who looked like a Triple Crown threat at Triple-A in 2009 (can’t believe it’s been that long!) but couldn’t hack it at the next level. The pitchers throw a little harder, mix their pitches a little better, and hit their spots more often.
It’s one thing for an ascending prospect to face the challenges that come with every promotion and figure out how to compete against stronger competition during his developmental years. But Parker is 27, an advanced age (in baseball years) at which a player’s learning curve has flattened out. So, while he can mash Triple-A pitching, it’s quite possible he lacks the talent to acclimate to Major League pitching. Once advanced scouting exposes his weaknesses, Parker’s challenge will be to adjust to the pitching strategies being deployed.
That doesn’t mean Parker has no hope. Nelson Cruz didn’t emerge as a regular Major Leaguer until his age-29 season*. He remains one of MLB’s most feared power hitters seven years later. After playing a half-season with Oakland in 2012, Josh Donaldson played his first full Major League season in 2013, at age 27. Two years later, was the AL MVP.
(*Technically, it was Cruz’s age-28 season. For those with midseason birthdays, June 30 is the cutoff date to determine their official age for a season. Cruz’s birthday is July 1. Had he been born hours earlier, he still would’ve played half the season at 29.)
The samples are small, but Parker has shown an ability to hit Big League pitching. Back in September, when he struck out twice every five at-bats, he also hit six home runs and batted .347. Unsustainable numbers, for sure, considering that he never produced like that over a full season in the Minors and that he was facing some fellow September call-ups (including many of the Quadruple-A variety).
That said, he came up to the big club and did as much as he could with the opportunity. And he has shown an improved strikeout rate over the last month. Parker might never reach the level of a Cruz or Donaldson, but it’s worth seeing if he can infuse a bit of long-ball in the Giants’ power-deprived lineup.