On the one hand, what happened to Oakland A’s pitcher Jarrod Parker seemed almost inevitable. On the other hand, there was always the question, “what if Parker were one of the few, the lucky ones, able to make a comeback?”
That question was more or less answered Thursday for Parker, who was just two pitches into his first rehab start since undergoing surgery last season for a medial epicondyle fracture. Prior to the fracture last May, Parker was in the process of recovering from Tommy John surgery he had undergone the previous May. His 2014 Tommy John procedure wasn’t his first, either. It was his second. He had the procedure as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization prior to being traded to the A’s in 2011.
It is extremely rare for pitchers to come back as a starter after a second Tommy John procedure, but that’s what Parker originally had his sights set on. Even more rare is returning from a third Tommy John surgery; very few pitchers have ever done it, and not one ever started a game.
The surgery to repair Parker’s fracture in 2015 was not of the Tommy John variety, but it was a third season-ending surgery on the same elbow, making his comeback that much more difficult. Yet that was ok with Parker, who up until Thursday had been fighting his way back to his dream of starting, or at the very least pitching again in the major leagues.
Thursday Parker yelled out in pain after throwing his second pitch to live hitters this year. Initial reports were positive. Parker and the team had hoped that the problem was merely a lateral elbow impingement, as he was able to still demonstrate range of motion. Unfortunately, when the MRI results came in Friday, the news was not good. Parker had indeed re-fractured his medial epicondyle bone.
Although the Athletics have not confirmed that Parker’s once-promising career has been cut short, it has been confirmed that the injury will likely, once again, end his season. Although the decision to make this most recent comeback attempt his last is ultimately Parker’s, it’s hard not to believe that it more than likely was.
Parker had a very promising career and up until two days ago looked as if this comeback attempt this season might actually work. He had been throwing off the mound since the beginning of spring training.
He pitched two full seasons for the Athletics in 2012 and 2013 (having already made his MLB debut in 2011, starting one game for Arizona). In 2012, Parker went 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA and in 2013 he went 12-8 with a 3.97 ERA, helping lead the A’s to two straight AL West titles and two trips to the postseason. His last big-league start was in Game 3 of the 2013 American League Division Series. The result was a win for Oakland, who eventually went on to lose the series in five games to the Detroit Tigers.
Despite their postseason issues in 2012 and 2013, Parker was an instrumental part in getting the team to that point. His arsenal included a low-90’s fastball, a slider that also registered in the low 90’s on the radar gun, a changeup that average around 10 MPH slower than his fastball and a rarely-seen, but still effective, mid-70’s curveball.
If Parker were to have had the chance to be a big league starter for more than two seasons, if he hadn’t been sidelined by serious injuries on and off since 2009, he may have been able to become one of the biggest star pitchers in the majors.
Parker was drafted in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft by the Diamondbacks as the ninth overall pick and just the fourth pitcher taken in the draft. When you take a look at the other highly-drafted pitchers from 2007, you can can see that Parker was in some very good company.
In 2007, the first pick of the draft was made by the Tampa Bay (then-Devil) Rays. Their choice? A kid out of Vanderbilt University name David Price. As we now know, David Price is one of the top pitchers in the game, already has a Cy Young Award of his own and was runner-up for the same award last season to Houston’s Dallas Keuchel.
Also taken in the first round of the 2007 draft with the tenth overall pick is a guy we know mostly for his 2014 World Series heroics. This player, drafted directly after the Diamondbacks chose Parker, was of none other than San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. Even though Bumgarner has yet to even finish in the top-three in the Cy Young Award voting, he’s set World Series records and astounded many with his innate pitching abilities.
Bumgarner was drafted by the Giants after the Diamondback’s had already chosen Parker, which says a lot about Parker’s natural abilities. It’s unfortunate, to say the least, that the injuries keep coming for this player, who doesn’t want to have to let go of his dream to be a long-time major league starting pitcher.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Parker’s potential ceiling could have been if he hadn’t been continually kept out of the game by multiple serious injuries, but if his contemporaries in Price and Bumgarner are any indication, we will be missing out on quite a bit if and when Parker decides to retire from the game of baseball.