By JAY LeBLANC
August 28, 2008
Taking the lead from Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane - he of “Moneyball” fame - and statistics guru/Boston Red Sox advisor Bill James, major league front offices have gone stat-happy over the past decade or so in evaluating both major league talent and amateur players. However, if there were ever a single player that exemplified the continued need for good, old-fashioned scouting work in identifying potential big league talent, it’s New York Mets prospect Bobby Parnell.
Parnell, a 6’ 4”, 200-pound righty, posted ERAs of 6.82 and 8.86 in his final two seasons at Charleston Southern, which certainly would not have impressed Beane or James. Mets area scout Marlin McPhail, however, was intrigued by the former prep shortstop’s plus velocity - his fastball sits in the low 90s and tops out around 95 - and convinced the organization to take a chance on Parnell in the ninth round of the 2005 draft. The move paid immediate dividends, as Parnell posted a 1.73 ERA in 14 starts with the short-season Class A Brooklyn Cyclones that summer and earned New York-Penn League Mid-Season All-Star honors.
Parnell had somewhat of a down year in 2006, going 5-11 between Class A and advanced Class A, but continued to flash his potential by fanning 97 batters in 104 innings of work. He returned to the advanced Class A St. Lucie Mets to begin the 2007 season and earned a promotion to double-A after going 3-3 with a 3.25 ERA in 12 starts and being named to the Florida State League Mid-Season All-Star Team. Parnell held his own against Eastern League competition in the second half, going 5-5 with a 4.77 ERA while striking out 74 batters in 88 innings. Following the season, Baseball America ranked him as the No. 10 prospect in the Mets organization.
The 23-year-old returned to the double-A Binghamton Mets to start this season and continued his progression by going 10-6 with a 4.30 ERA and earning mid-season All-Star accolades at a third minor league level. For the third consecutive year he was rewarded with an in-season promotion, this time to the triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. Though his numbers don’t indicate it - he’s currently 2-2 with a 6.05 ERA in four starts - Parnell has pitched relatively well since his promotion. Take away his lone poor outing - he allowed five earned runs in 2 1/3 innings on Aug. 21 - and he’d be 2-1 with a 4.24 ERA in triple-A. For the season, Parnell is 12-8 with a 4.53 ERA and a 113-to-65 K-to-walk ratio in 147 innings.
Parnell complements his heater with a hard, mid-80s slider and a developing changeup, and the Mets are exicted about the progress he’s made thus far as a pro and believe he has a bright future. He has put himself in consideration for a September call-up this year and could snag a spot in the Mets’ 2009 starting rotation with a good showing next spring. I recently had a chance to speak with Parnell:
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been drafted by the Mets? Did you know in advance that they were looking to pick you?
A: No, I didn’t know that they were a team that was looking at me. It was kind of a pot luck for me; I tried to do a few camps prior to the draft just to try to get my name out there. I was obviously ecstatic just to get drafted in the first place, but the Mets are a top-three organization - they’re always up there. I was definitely honored to get drafted by them.
Q: Can you tell the differences in the levels of competition as you climb the organizational ladder?
A: Oh, definitely. From low-A to double-A is always your biggest jump, and you know, there’s always going to be some teams that’ll get you. There’s definitely, as you go up, some talent that rises with you.
Q: Can you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: I just throw a fastball, slider and changeup. I like to keep people off balance with my fastball and changeup, and then strike them out with my slider when I can. I like to get ahead with my fastball. My changeup is a pitch I’m developing right now; I’m working on it, and it’s coming along pretty good.
Q: Do you consider yourself a strikeout pitcher, a guy who pitches to contact, or some mixture of the two?
A: (Laughs.) You always want to be a pitcher that pitches to contact. You don’t want to shy away from contact, so I like to go after hitters. Strikeouts come with it, but a groundball pitcher is what I like to consider myself. I like to go after hitters and if strikeouts happen, they happen.
Q: What are some aspects of your game that you’re trying to work on this season?
A: Like I said, my changeup, I’m trying to develop that a little bit better. And just get ahead of hitters and just be consistent with myself, and just pitch the way I know how to pitch.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: Well you know, I got a chance to go to big league camp this year with the Mets. Billy Wagner and those guys, [Johan] Santana’s changeup … I like to take it from everybody. I like to learn as I go, from who I can. I like to just watch everybody.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Mets?
A: (Laughs.) I’d like to say tomorrow, but when I get my chance, I’ll be ready.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros.