Every year in the last few rounds of draft, teams take fliers on talented players who have next to no chance of signing. Or they take a chance on players who are young and draft eligible but may not be as highly-regarded, hoping that they’ll sign and develop into something special. Which of those was Parker Markel? In retrospect, he may have the former, but he actually may have been the latter as he didn’t receive much of a signing bonus. Doesn’t make a difference now- it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. And Parker Markel has the ability to reach much greater heights then anyone would have thought after he was a 39th round draft pick in 2010.
Markel made his pro debut in 2010 after signing out of Yavapai JC in Arizona and blew away GCL hitters, posting a 1.74 ERA in 7 relief appearances spanning 10.1 IP, striking out 13 while walking just 3. He moved up to Short Season-A Hudson Valley for 2011 and the results were good but nothing special as he went 3-4 with a 3.14 ERA, a 6.9 K/9, a 3.6 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 13 starts and 57.1 IP. But Markel did begin to stand out for his repertoire of pitches. The 6’4″, 220 right-hander threw a fastball that touched the mid-90’s, a slider that showed flashes of sharp break, and a changeup with good arm action. There were red flags with Parkel, specifically a sharp recoil in his delivery that put a lot of stress on his shoulder, but his pitches still stood out. The Rays were intrigued by Parkel and wanted to see whether his arsenal could continue to improve and whether his results would catch up to his stuff as he moved to full-season ball in 2012.
2012 began as a nightmare for Markel. He got hit around in April, posting just a 4.95 ERA (although with a 3.65 FIP) in 4 starts, but that was not the worst part as the red flags in his delivery came to fruition as Markel went down with shoulder soreness that would sideline him nearly a month. Markel began to work his way back in late May, posting a 9.00 ERA (4.91 FIP) in 3 starts spanning just 7 IP. The training wheels started to come off in June, but Markel continued to struggle, managing a 1-3 record and a 4.57 ERA in 5 starts and 21.2 IP. However, Markel’s peripheral statistics showed significant improvement as he posted just a 6.2 K/9, but a 2.1 BB/9 and a 0.4 HR/9, a good 3.11 FIP. But the Rays still were waiting for Markel’s electric stuff to result in strikeouts. That finally began happened in July as Markel went 5-0 with a 2.29 ERA, an 8.9 K/9, a 2.6 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 (2.63 FIP) in 6 starts and 35.1 IP. And Markel has continued to pitch well into August, going 3-0 with a 1.78 ERA in 25.1 IP, although his K/9 has dipped back down to 6.0 to go along with a 2.5 BB/9 and not a single homer allowed (3.16 FIP).
On the season, Markel has gone 10-5 with 3.70 ERA, a 7.2 K/9, a 2.4 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 (3.17 FIP) in 22 starts and 109.1 IP. His groundball rate of 42.9% is certainly not the ideal, but Markel has made huge strides with control and showed flashes of being a formidable strikeout pitcher. Markel may have worn down a little bit in August, understandable given the fact that after his next start he will have pitched more than double the number of innings that he did in 2011 (57.1), and also missed time with the shoulder injury, but the good has to outweigh the bad for Markel this season.
Parker Markel’s upside may be behind only 2011 first rounder Taylor Guerrieri among the Rays starters currently at A-ball. With his fastball touching 97, his slider blowing away hitters at its best and his changeup quickly improving, Markel has a chance to be a number two starting pitcher someday. His delivery may make that an impossibility, but Markel has a chance to zoom through the minors if converted into a reliever and could have late-inning upside. Because of the risk surrounding him, Markel may never rank among the Rays top prospects even if his pure stuff may warrant consideration. But he has the ability to make an impact for the Rays someday in some capacity. Given where Markel started, this seems surprising, but from day one in the Rays system, Markel has been proving everyone wrong.