Kyle Parker, the Colorado Rockies’ first round pick in 2010, is now 25 years old and coming off his first big league cameo. How does he fit on the Rockies?
Even after Michael Cuddyer‘s departure, the outfield is pretty much set while Justin Morneau still anchors the first base position. That makes it unlikely that Parker will open the season on the opening day roster barring a trade. What sort of role will he have with the Rockies when he does get promoted to the big leagues?
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One thing we know about Kyle Parker, 26 big league plate appearances aside, is that he can hit. In the minors, he’s a career .292/.364/.493 hitter, and he’s hit at least 20 homers in three of four seasons as a pro. He’s been an above-average hitter in each of his four minor league seasons, even accounting for the generally hitter-friendly conditions.
Unfortunately, while Parker has been a good hitter in the minors, he’s probably not quite the complete hitter the Rockies thought they were getting when they made him a first round pick in 2010. He swings and misses… a lot. His strikeout rate has hovered around 20% throughout his career, which is a bad sign for someone hitting against minor league pitching. And I know it was a small sample size, but Parker struck out 14 times in his 26 Rockies plate appearances. He also failed to walk once for the Rockies after walking just 33 times for Colorado Springs. If he continues posting poor K/BB ratios, he won’t be able to maintain a near-.300 average once he faces the toughest pitching in the world.
If Parker cracks the big league roster, it won’t be because of his defense. Although he was drafted as a corner outfielder, he was moved to first base about half the time last season, either because the Rockies had a bigger hole at first base or due to Parker’s lack of mobility. The fact that he can play three positions adequately should help, but he probably won’t ever be better than average defensively. His lack of speed can be hidden at first base, but as an outfielder he’s probably a defensive liability.
All of this, from the disturbing offensive trends (lots of strikeouts, not many walks, good-but-not-elite power, a disappointing 2014 season) to the lack of defensive upside, seriously limits Kyle Parker’s potential to be a real difference maker at the next level. He’s probably never going to be better than a platoon player or fourth outfielder, or, at best, a replacement level everyday starter.
As of now, Parker will likely start the 2015 season back where he spent the majority of 2014; in Colorado Springs. After Cuddyer’s departure, the Rockies are down to five outfielders who played a big role last season. But those five will all make the opening day roster, leaving little room for the solid 1B/OF. And Morneau isn’t going to lose his job, especially after he was one of the highlights of Colorado’s awful 2014 season.
So why am I talking about Kyle Parker right now? Because there’s at least a decent possibility that someone will be traded. It could be Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez, but I think it’s more likely to be Drew Stubbs or, and this would be the best news for Parker, Morneau. If Stubbs is dealt, Parker could probably take his place as the top right-handed bench bat. He could be in line for 200-300 plate appearances and possibly garner some starts against tough lefties, and would be a CarGo injury away from a potential starting job.
If Morneau gets traded, though, and I don’t think it’s likely after the season he had last season and after Cuddyer bolted to the Mets, Parker could win the starting first base job with a strong spring training. The Rockies don’t have another first baseman on the roster, and the farm system is barren of first base talent with the exception of Parker. Again, I don’t think Morneau is going to be traded, because that would be a very uncharacteristic move for the win-now Rockies. But if he were traded, we could see a lot more of Kyle Parker this season.
One thing is for sure: 2015 will be a pivotal year for Kyle Parker. He lost some of the hype around him after his stats declined last season, leaving scouts wondering whether he would be able to hit big league pitching. His upside is probably a league-average regular, but those have real value. Despite slipping down prospect lists, Parker is still one of the better bats in the system, and, depending on injuries and trades, he might have a chance to prove his worth this season. If nothing more, I’d wager that he gets substantially more than the 26 plate appearances he posted last season, but he could get much, much more.