SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – As a 16- and 17-year-old budding prospect back in 2004, outfielder/left-hander Gerardo Parra was willing to go the extra mile to get noticed by Major League Baseball scouts, scouting directors and other front office personnel.
In Parra’s case, it was an extra 3,000 miles, and he did it twice.
Parra, now a 24-year-old outfielder with the Arizona Diamondbacks, grew up in Santa Barbara del Zulia, Venezuela, a more than 3,000-mile round-trip flight from the state of Florida in the United States. Yet on two different occasions within six months in early 2004, his parents Gustavo and Misleada Parra made sure their son was on an airplane bound for Florida so he could get in front of MLB scouts at two prestigious Perfect Game Showcases.
His first destination was the PG World Showcase held at historic Terry Park in Fort Myers Jan. 10-11, 2004.
Only 16 at the time, a PG scouting report indentified Parra as the “top free agent prospect at the World Showcase, and might have been both as a pitcher and player.” Parra was scouted primarily as a pitcher the World, and with a fastball that sat consistently in the 88 mph range, the scouts were impressed. His fastball later reached 93 mph as a teenager.
The PG report included a personal note from the scout at the end of the report that read, “I saw Twins LHP Johan Santana extensively in Venezuela when he was between 15 and 17 years old and to me Parra is extremely similar and maybe even a level better.”
Another top prospect in attendance at the 2004 World Showcase was Diamondbacks’ All-Star right-fielder Justin Upton.
“I don’t remember him, actually,” Upton told Perfect Game this week, smiling while trying to recall Parra. “I only remember a few players that I played against quite a bit at that age, but there was a different group of talent at that showcase in (Fort Myers). But I don’t doubt (Parra threw 93 mph).”
Parra’s next trip to the states was June 18-20 when he traveled to St. Petersburg for the 2004 Perfect Game National Showcase. Upton, who was the first overall selection of the first round in the 2005 MLB amateur draft, was also at that showcase, as were fellow first-rounders and current Major League players Ike Davis, Camerin Maybin, Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey.
Still, Parra managed to stand out. PG’s scouting report was emphatic in its praise:
“We expect him to become a big league player as an outfielder; … His OF actions are outstanding (and) he just flat hits the ball hard every time we see him. His bat is very fast and he has very good natural hitting ability. … He’s an outstanding base-runner, as well. … This kid needs to be in professional baseball right now; he’s too good for the amateur level.”
Not long after that report was filed, the Diamondbacks signed him as a 17-year-old amateur free agent. The long trips to the PG showcases had paid off.
“That was a good situation, because for us (international amateur free agents) it was a lot of scouts and you get to see a lot of other guys with talent and you get to see everybody else that is good, and the scouts are writing their reports” Parra said in passable English before a Diamondbacks’ early morning workout session this week on their side of the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick spring training complex. “I think that’s good for (young) baseball players.”
Parra spent five full seasons in the D-backs’ farm system before making his MLB debut on May 13, 2009. He hasn’t been out of the lineup very often since that debut.
In 394 games over three full seasons (an average of 131 games per season), Parra hit .282 with 60 doubles, 22 triples and 16 home runs. He was eighth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2009 when he hit .290 with 21 doubles, eight triples and 60 RBI in 120 games.
Parra played in 141 games in 2011, mostly as the Diamondbacks’ starting left fielder. He hit .292 with 20 doubles, eight triples, eight home runs, 46 RBI and 55 runs scored, and was successful in 15 of 16 stolen base attempts. Most impressively, he was a Rawlings Gold Glove winner as the NL’s left fielder, joining the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the NL Gold Glove outfield.
“You have a talent, and if you’re not working at it, you’re talent is never (going to be recognized),” Parra said. “Right now I feel good and I feel right because I feel 100 percent and I’m working out and I’m working hard and when I come into the stadium I give 100 percent because my body feeling’s good.”
Despite his terrific 2011 campaign, Parra lost his starting job during the offseason when the D-backs signed free-agent outfielder Jason Kubel. Parra is now listed No. 2 on the D-backs’ depth chart at all three outfield positions behind Kubel (left), Chris Young (center) and Upton (right).
You might think the guy would be pretty disappointed. But he was upbeat, out-going and accessible during his short interview session with PG, and even Diamondback coaches and teammates were surprised by his positive attitude.
“We all wondered,” D-backs first base coach Eric Young told the Arizona Republic newspaper in an article published March 22. “It’s been tremendous. I mean, outstanding from Day 1. His attitude last year was, ‘I want to be the best player I can be.’ His attitude the first day here was, ‘Whatever I need to do to help this team win is what I’m going to do.’ That’s what he said to me.”
The scouts who observed Parra at those two Perfect Game showcases eight years ago wouldn’t be surprised by Parra’s outstanding attitude. It tough to bring a good man down, especially one that was willing to travel thousands of miles as a teenager just to get noticed and signed in the first place.
“I feel happy right now,” Parra told PG this week. “I like the D-backs and the coach (manager Kirk Gibson) and the GM (Kevin Towers) and everything is good for me.”
He said it with a smile.