Sneaky-good: John Parke has been one of the most reliable arms in the Sox system since being selected in the 21st round in the 2017 draft. (@BhamBarons)
Under the Radar details players in the Chicago White Sox system who may have suffered setbacks, gotten lost in the shuffle, or just haven’t surfaced as significant prospects as of yet. Next up is John Parke, a southpaw control specialist who’s excelled since being selected in the 21st round of the 2017 draft.
John Parke (LHSP) — Birmingham Barons
Parke has certainly been one of the most over-performing pitchers in the White Sox system. Looking at Parke’s stats from his collegiate resume, it’s surprising he was even selected as high as he was. During Parke’s first two seasons with South Carolina, spanning 15 relief outings, he didn’t allow an earned run — although he walked 12 and struck out 13 in 12 innings of work. However, his luck failed with the Gamecocks in his junior season, when Parke suffered an 8.53 ERA and 1.74 WHIP by allowing 35 hits and nine walks while striking out 21 in 25 innings of work.
Yet despite all of that, White Sox scouts clearly saw enough in Parke to grab him in the 21st round. After receiving a $30,000 signing bonus, Parke went on to pitch in 14 games (10 starts) for the AZL White Sox and posted a 2.77 ERA and 1.08 WHIP covering 68 1⁄3innings, allowing 65 hits (.248 OBA) and just nine walks (3.3%) but striking out 46 (16.7%).
Parke bypassed Great Falls in 2018, splitting the season with Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. Combined for both teams, he managed a 3.53 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 153 innings, allowing 159 hits (.267 OBA) and 39 walks (6.0%) while fanning 119 hitters (18.2%). His numbers weren’t as good with Winston-Salem, for the obvious reasons reasons that the Dash play in a hitter’s ballpark and the competition was stronger. However, Parke likely was undergoing some serious fatigue, as he pitched 47 more innings than he did in his combined three years with South Carolina and the AZL Sox.
In 2019, Parke posted solid numbers for both Winston-Salem and Birmingham. In 12 starts totaling 69 innings for the Dash, he had a respectable 3.65 ERA and 1.32 WHIP as he relinquished 69 hits (.265 OBA) and 20 walks (6.7%) while fanning just 32 (10.8%). Although his stats were decent, Parke may not have received a promotion on June 20 to Birmingham if not due to injuries to pitchers like Bernardo Flores and Jimmy Lambert.
With that said, Parke has certainly made the most of his opportunity. In 14 starts spanning 76 1/3 innings for the Barons, he posted a rock-solid 2.59 ERA and 1.14 WHIP by ceding just 69 hits and 18 walks while striking out 43. Pitching in cavernous Birmingham could account for some of Parke’s improvement, but it’s important to note that his strikeouts have risen while his walk rate has gone down despite pitching in a tougher league.
His combined 2019 numbers for Winston-Salem and Birmingham:
7-6, 26 G, 26 GS, 3.10 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 145 1/3 IP, 140 H, 11 HR, 38 BB, 75 K
Interestingly, lefties fared far better against Parke while he was pitching for the Dash (.309) than at Birmingham (.195), which tells me that his curveball was more effective as the year progressed. Righties have also fared worse against him in Birmingham (.235) than at Winston-Salem (.250).
How does Parke succeed when he doesn’t have much more than a low-90s fastball? First of all, he has an effective changeup, which helps neutralize righties. Parke also features an above-average curveball, which helps stymie lefties, especially when at its best. He’s also done an excellent job keeping the ball down, as 67% of batted outs have been via the ground ball, which bodes well for an eventual promotion to Charlotte.
Because Parke wasn’t overworked in college, his arm has been relatively fresh and hasn’t missed many (if any) starts due to injury. He doesn’t try to do too much on the mound, and is comfortable letting his fielders do the grunt work.
Parke has shown good control throughout the minors (especially so in Birmingham), but when hitters do get on, his above-average command helps him minimize damage because he usually hits the catcher’s glove with precision. Because of his command, Parke’s ERA has outperformed his FIP at every stop throughout his minor league career. This year’s been no exception, as his ERA for Winston-Salem and Birmingham (3.65 and 2.55 respectively) have far bettered his FIP (4.73 and 3.73). Certainly this could be a red flag, as he’ll face more advanced hitters with each new level; with that said, Parke could simply be outperforming his peripherals because he knows how to find ways to get hitters out.
At age 24, Parke is facing hitters in Birmingham who are at a similar age-level. Thus, it’s great to see him pitching so well. If Parke continues to pitch well in Birmingham, he should be in contention for a starting role in Charlotte beginning in 2020.