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Sunday, June 03, 2012

Sunshine East brings needed reps

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Being a member of one of the nation's best high school baseball teams can present its own plusses and minuses.

The plusses are much more obvious and plentiful: state championships, high national rankings and expanded national media coverage are all part of the package, and that's certainly been the situation enjoyed by Tampa (Fla.) Jesuit High School the past three years. It's a team that started the 2012 season No. 1 in Perfect Game's Preseason National Rankings and still stands No. 3 in the most recent PG rankings.

About the only minus to being part of such a team, especially if you're an underclassman, is finding playing time. Such was the case with Jesuit junior right-hander Jordan Parnell this past season when he found himself pitching behind four other accomplished hurlers who gobbled up the vast majority of Jesuit's innings.

So here was Parnell, at this weekend's 2012 Perfect Game Sunshine East Showcase at the Player Development 5-Plex, searching for the innings he surrendered to Jesuit teammates Lance McCullers, John Kilichowski, Spencer Traynor and Conor O'Brien throughout March, April and May.

"I didn't get to pitch much for my high school so I'm just getting back into it this summer. I'm just trying to pitch during all the opportunities that I have," Parnell said early Sunday afternoon. "With all the pitchers that we had - Lance McCullers, John Kilichowski, Spencer Traynor, all of them - I didn't get that many reps."

The lack of reps hasn't hurt Parnell's reputation; he came into the Sunshine East ranked the 134th top prospect in the nation, and the 32nd top right-hander. He's shown enough at his 11 Perfect Game events prior to this one to have already earned an invitation to the PG National Showcase, scheduled for June 14-18 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Which makes it difficult to comprehend Parnell not getting more innings for his high school team, even with McCullers on the roster. And make no mistake, McCullers - a right-hander whose fastball has approached 100 mph and who is generally projected as a top-10 pick in this week's MLB amateur draft - did have a phenomenal season.

According to statistics on the website, McCullers threw an eye-popping 77.1 innings in Jesuit's 30 games, and compiled a 13-0 record with a 0.18 ERA and 140 strikeouts. McCullers, Kilichowski, Traynor and O'Brien combined to pitch 169 of Jesuit's 192 total innings (.880 percent), according to MaxPreps, and finished a combined 26-1.

Parnell pitched 7 2/3 innings with a 3.65 ERA, and gave up only two hits while striking out 13. He sounds totally accepting of the cards he was dealt.

"The fact that we've been to two state championships and a state semifinal, that's been a good experience," he said. "I haven't really got that many reps my first three seasons, but I'll be one of the top pitchers my senior year. We've got a great coaching staff, too, so it's been a real good experience."

Jordan's father, Tom  Parnell, was at the 5-Plex with his son Sunday, and was chatting frequently with former Major League pitcher Lance McCullers Sr., the father of the younger McCullers. Like his son, Tom seemed to accept Jordan's lack of innings during the spring.

"We understand that. You go to a school that's ranked No. 1 in the nation most of the year, you're going to sit. But the good thing is, his arm's fresh," Tom said with a laugh. "So this is kind of the start; this is the launching pad. We wanted him to get some innings before he goes to (the PG National), and these next two months will be the crunch time for him."

Jordan got his summer started at last weekend's 2012 18u PG WWBA East Memorial Day Classic over at Terry Park, playing with the Florida Hardballers. He plans on playing with the Hardballers in a few more tournaments this summer, in addition to attending the PG National Showcase, the East Coast Professional Showcase and the Area Code Games.

After his spring layoff, Parnell said it felt good to finally throw some pitches at the East Memorial Day.

"I got to pitch four innings over there and did pretty well. It was good and it was a good way to kick off the summer," he said, adding he was looking forward to doing more of the same when he pitched Sunday afternoon. "I just want to go out and have good mechanics and work on stuff and get back in the groove of things."

Tom Parnell felt it was important for his son to be here this weekend.

"We came last year and had a good time, and Perfect Game is just getting so popular and big in the recruiting process, that we wanted to come back again and help him build his stock back up," Tom said. "It's basically a chance for Perfect Game to see him and help build his stock for recruiting."

Jordan didn't disappoint in his short outing Sunday. His fastball hit 90 mph and his curve sat at 71, and he allowed only two hits and struck out seven in three innings of work.

Jordan's big opportunity will arrive in a couple of weeks under the roof of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis at the Perfect Game National Showcase. That's when the doors will open on one of the largest recruiting bonanzas in the country.

"That's pretty awesome. I'm looking forward to that and being around some of the best talent that we have to offer," Jordan said.

"We find it an honor and that's why we're going," Tom said. "it's an honor and we appreciate being (invited)."

This is an important summer for Jordan, who has not committed to a college yet but is sure to receive plenty of offers. It should be noted that both his father, Tom, and his mother, Polly, are Florida State alumni. And, the innings-pitched are also sure to be on the rise in the coming months.

"Being at Jesuit and sitting so much, it's made it a little frustrating; he didn't get nearly as many innings as he would have liked but I'm sure that's going to change his senior year," Tom said. "But to me, it's all about the next level, and to him, too. He's enjoyed his high school years and he's got another one left, and hopefully it will culminate in a great year, but it's about going to college if he can't get selected high enough in the draft.

"He loves the game and he wants to keep playing as long as he can, just like all the rest of these boys out here. That's what it's about."

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