Of all the pitchers and catchers who began workouts for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday, probably none looms larger for the franchise's future than Jarrod Parker.
The 22-year-old right-hander is a non-roster invitee to the big club's training camp. By all accounts, his electric mid-90s fastball is intact after a year of rehabilitation following Tommy John surgery.
Parker knows his major league debut is coming soon. He may not crack the season-opening rotation, but sometime this season, probably in the first few months, he will get his chance to show whether the ultrahigh expectations are warranted.
After missing an entire season, Parker said his arm is as good as new.
"I feel like I did when I was healthy," he said after Monday's workout, "so it's definitely a good situation."
Parker was Arizona's No. 1 pick, the ninth selection overall, in the 2007 draft after going 12-0 with a 0.10 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 70 innings at Norwell High School in Ossian, Indiana. He was selected Indiana's Mr. Baseball on a team that went 35-0 and won the state title.
From the start in the Diamondbacks' organization, he had the look of an ace in the making.
With Class A South Bend in 2008, he went 12-5 in 24 starts with a 3.44 ERA and an eye-popping 117 strikeouts — compared with 33 walks — in 117 2-3 innings. The following season, he started at Class A Visalia, where he was 1-0 in four starts with 21 strikeouts — and four walks — in 19 innings. Promoted to Double-A Mobile, his record dipped to 4-6 with a 3.68 ERA but with 74 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings.
Combined, that's 212 strikeouts in 215 innings.
But his second pro season ended in August 2009 because of elbow inflammation, and the decision was made for surgery. On Oct. 28, 2009, Dr. James Andrews took a piece of his hamstring and used it to rebuild the ligament in Parker's elbow.
Parker acknowledges he had some doubts about his future.
"That thought's there," he said, "but I put 110 percent into the rehab effort and the medical staff did an amazing job. ... It's such a successful surgery now. It's not as big a worry as there used to be."
The rehab was "real tedious," he said, but he had friends, family, the team doctors and players who had gone through the surgery to provide support.
"I wouldn't say it was devastating, just kind of a bump in the road," Parker said. "I was throwing, feeling good. It was a good season and I was starting to put some good starts together and it kind of happened. I sat back and looked at things and didn't take it for granted anymore."
General manager Kevin Towers said Parker will not be held back this spring.
"I think sometimes you can tend to coddle people too long," Towers said. "I mean, this guy's almost two years post-op. He threw very good in instructional ball. he's been working his tail off here in the offseason at Chase Field. He's a special pitcher. We're going to do what's right for him, but this guy's chomping at the bit."
Parker's fastball hit 97 mph in workouts last fall. In a two-inning instructional league appearance, he hit 95 mph 10 times, striking out three and walking one without allowing a hit.
Parker remains a longshot in what promises to be a spirited competition for the last two rotation spots on Arizona's opening day roster.
Towers said that it probably would be best for Parker to get a few minor league starts before being brought up to the majors.
"But I'm certainly not going to tell the kid that," he said. "If he forces our hand and we feel he's one of our best five and this is a guy we want to go, maybe he starts with us."
When he finally takes the mound, expectations will be sky high, something he said he will ignore.
"I'm pretty even-keeled, laid back, so I don't try to think about it," Parker said. "Between the lines stuff will take care of itself, and whatever happens, happens."
- Arizona Diamondbacks