The Colorado Rockies promoted outfielder/first baseman Kyle Parker to the major leagues this week. Does he have what it takes to be a productive big league slugger? Let's take a look at the newest Rockie as Wednesday's Prospect of the Day.
Parker was a dual sport athlete at Clemson University. He starred initially on the baseball team, hitting .303/.400/.559 with 14 homers as a freshman in 2008. He took a football redshirt that year, returned to baseball in the spring of 2009 and hit .255/.332/.442 with 12 homers in a disappointing sophomore season. Football was better: he threw 20 touchdown passes along with 2,526 yards that fall and established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in college football.
In the spring of 2010 he confirmed his baseball status by hitting .344/.481/.656 with 20 homers and 56 walks, becoming the first player in NCAA history to hit 20 homers and throw 20 touchdowns in the same school year. The Rockies drafted him in the first round, 26th overall, and offered him $2,200,000 to give up football. He declined to do, instead signing for a $1,400,000 bonus and permission to play football in the fall. His '10 football season was less successful than '09, with just 12 touchdowns, and he was clearly a full-time baseball player entering 2011.
Parker has moved slowly but steadily through the farm system as a consistent source of power. He hit .285/.367/.483 with 21 homers for Low-A Asheville in '11, .308/.415/.562 with 23 homers for High-A Modesto in 2012, and .288/.345/.492 with 23 homers for Double-A Tulsa in '13. In relative terms his production has remained consistently above-average at every level, with wRC+ marks of 132, 152. and 135 in his three complete seasons.
Through 67 games this year at Triple-A Colorado Springs, he was hitting .292/.347/.478 with seven homers, 21 walks, and 53 strikeouts in 253 at-bats, wRC+113. Of particular note and a caution flag are his sharp home/road splits: .329/.361/.557 in his friendly home park, .240/.328/.365 on the road.
Parker is a right-handed hitter and thrower, born September 30, 1989. He's not fast and is limited defensively to the corner outfield spots and first base. He has a strong arm but his lack of speed makes him just a fair outfielder. He is still learning the nuances of infield play and needs more reps there.
The bat is what matters here. He's obviously strong and is capable of driving the ball to all fields, showing considerable pull power at times but also showing good power to the opposite when he's going well. His plate discipline and ability to make contact have improved since the lower minors; he fanned 25.6% of the time in Low-A but has cut that down below 20% in subsequent seasons. However, his batting average and OBP are likely to be more "adequate" rather than outstanding, at least in a neutral park.
I find this video from the 2013 Arizona Fall League to be interesting. In these clips, Parker's approach is "noisier" than I remember seeing when he was playing for Tulsa. The swing looks more complex, with a bigger leg kick. I'm no expert on swing mechanics, but this looks like it would be harder to maintain than the more subdued, swimpler approach I've seen from him previously. I also know that opinions from people who saw him play in the AFL (where he hit .278/.320/.536 in 24 games) were not as quite as enthusiastic as those I heard from Texas League sources last summer.
So what do we have here? I have always been rather optimistic about Parker's chances to be a productive slugger, given the complete balance of evidence in his career. The home/road splits in Triple-A and the mixed opinions about his swing temper that somewhat, but I still think this is a guy who can hit something on the order of .260/.330/.450 in a neutral environment, with more possible at his peak.