Scottsdale, Ariz. -- It's been a difficult offseason for Kyle Parker, finding himself dumped off the 40-man roster of a club that drafted him in the first round not too many years ago, and now back in camp with that same club as a non-roster invitee. As he searches for a path to the Major Leagues with the Colorado Rockies, Parker must also now navigate a new outfielder competition — one that more or less doesn't include him.
Ever the professional, though, Parker doesn't see the challenges ahead of him this month (and later this summer) as a sign of a waning career or anything else. He's content to play the game he loves along with the teammates he adores, while leaving the analysis to those outside the clubhouse.
"I like being around my teammates, I like playing the game, and I want to do it because I enjoy it, rather than looking for judgment from other people," Parker told Purple Row at the Rockies' spring facility in Scottsdale. "Really, I want to accomplish what I feel like I can, and my abilities will ride as long as they will take me. But I'm just enjoying being myself, and enjoying being who I am, and hopefully that will come out on the field."
There hasn't been much for Parker to enjoy in the last two summers in the big leagues, at least statistically. The outfielder has slashed just .182/.217/.295 over 138 plate appearances in 64 games, knocking three home runs and striking out in 51 at-bats while walking only six times. Contrast that with his time in the minors, where he's a career .290/.358/.483 hitter over five seasons, including two in Triple-A, and Parker's had a more difficult adjustment to the ultimate level than many other first round picks.
For the outfielder, that adjustment has centered predominantly on his changing role from that of an everyday player in Triple-A, to a bench option that might get a few at-bats a week in the big leagues.
"It's different. Coming off the bench is very different from being in the whole game, and then from playing every day," Parker admitted. "It’s something you have to learn how to do. Some people can do it. Hopefully my experience will allow me to draw from that in the future."
After two partial seasons of it, Parker's stats show that he's no closer to figuring it out. But still at just 26 years old, the righty does have a few more opportunities ahead, in all likelihood, before he's out of time. For one, at least, he now hopes he's better equipped to handle the speed of the big league game and the overall consistency of Major League pitching.
"The biggest thing is that you’re constantly challenged, and you’ve got to be ready to go," Parker said. "There’s a consistency of your swing, and the maintenance of your swing, that you’ve really got to work on, because the position you’re in, not everyone can play every single day. Having to come off the bench and get an at-bat a day, or having to take two days off and then get a couple at-bats, you have to be ready to roll and jump right in."
Adjustments, forever part of the game for players desperate to stay above water for as long as possible, came wholesale to Parker this winter. The outfielder closed off his batting stance in an effort to hit the ball with the good part of his bat more consistently, and thus far this spring he believes that adjustment was the right move.
"This is just me trying to position my body to let the ball find the barrel instead of letting my hands fly through the zone, and I feel like it’s good," Parker said of his new batting stance. "I’m not really looking too far into it, I’m kind of taking it with a grain of salt. My at-bats are one or two a day, and the main thing is I just want to be on time. I feel like I’ve just missed a couple pitches, but I think it’s just a matter of time for things to all click."
Missing pitches ought to be the kiss of death in March for a player on the wrong end of the roster bubble, but to hear Parker tell it, he's long since learned that pressing in spring training to push for a summer job doesn't work.
"Last year just got to a point where I was trying to find hits in spring training, and I was in a different spot," Parker admitted when asked about what's changed for him this March. "I had a productive spring [in 2015], but I feel like it led me down a wrong path of just seeing the ball a little differently than I had my entire career."
But this year? Well, there's a more palpable calm around the outfielder, despite having been taken off the 40-man roster and, it would appear, destined for a one-way ticket to Albuquerque in another two weeks' time.
"I’m not too worried about it," Parker said. "I know I can go to Triple-A and put up the numbers I need, but ultimately I need to do what will make me successful in the big leagues."
"I still have some things I want to iron out with my swing and stuff like that," Parker added. "But my main goal is just to satisfy myself."
In some ways, Kyle Parker sounds the most free he's even been.