SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Barry Bonds did not waste any time. On the second day of his stint as a Giants spring training instructor, he walked up to Jarrett Parker in an indoor cage and gave the 28-year-old the rhetorical version of an inside fastball.
“Hey, man, I hear all this talk about you,” Bonds said to Parker. “I’m here. Let’s see what’s going on.”
When you are the starting left fielder for the San Francisco Giants, expect Barry Bonds to take an interest in you.
It’s been a decade since the greatest offensive force of nature since Babe Ruth inhabited left field at AT&T Park. You might not live in that corner house any longer, the one with the porch swing and the poplar tree. But you slow down a bit every time you drive past it.
It is Parker’s house now, although over the past decade, the position has seen more tenant turnover than an extended-stay motel. Parker is set to become the 10th left fielder in 10 seasons to start for the Giants on opening day since the club disentangled itself from Bonds.
The list of Parker’s predecessors is an intriguing one, filled with Plan Bs and aging mercenaries. It includes the current manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers (Dave Roberts) and a career infielder who is now an MLB Network studio commentator (Mark DeRosa). It includes a trio of 2010 World Series contributors (Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres) who hung around in the sad hope of squeezing just a little more magic. Fly balls were an adventure for Michael Morse one season and Nori Aoki the next. Last year, the Giants stuck Angel Pagan in left field while riding out the end of his contract.
Parker is only the second of those 10 left fielders to matriculate through the Giants’ minor league system. He joins Fred Lewis (Or F-dot Lew, as he preferred to be called) as the only homegrown players who will start for the club there on opening day in the post-Bonds era.
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At the risk of sounding impolite, then: the Giants have done a miserable job trying to replace the most powerful presence in recent franchise history.
But don’t try asking Bonds whether Parker might be feeling more pressure just because he’ll jog out to a legend’s former spot on opening day.
“Wait a minute. No,” Bonds said, laughing. “That’s not good. I mean, let me see … there are three outfielders who played their spots pretty good. One was Bobby Bonds in right, one was Willie Mays center and the other one was Barry. So anybody who plays any outfield spot on this team, if you think that way, then you’ve got a problem. You’ve got a huge problem.”
“You name any position with the San Francisco Giants since 1958 and you tell me what problem you have. You’ve got Mac (Willie McCovey), you’ve got Will Clark. I mean, this organization has produced some serious players, some serious athletes. So I’d tell him not to worry about that one.”
The Giants did not spend money over the winter to lure a free agent to play left field, instead investing $62 million on closer Mark Melancon and letting Parker compete with fellow prospect Mac Williamson for a starting job. Because Parker was out of minor league options this spring, the job was his to lose. Williamson’s quadriceps strain earlier this month more or less sealed it.
Parker is capable of blistering stretches. Nobody has forgotten his three-home run game at Oakland toward the end of the 2015 season. Second baseman Joe Panik was even more amazed by a series he witnessed in 2013 at Double-A Richmond. Parker went 8 for 20 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in three games against Altoona.
“It was just like Oakland,” Panik said. “He would hit missile home runs. He can change a game like that, or a series like that. With him, it’s `Relax and play and let the talent show.’”
Since Bonds, no Giant has hit more home runs as a left fielder than Pat Burrell’s 18 in 2010. There is little doubt Parker can soar past that number, if he gets the at-bats.
The tradeoff is that when Parker gets lost at the plate, he goes totally off the grid. After a hot start this spring that included four home runs, he went 3 for 22 with 14 strikeouts in his final eight Cactus League games.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged that those strikeout-studded spells were part of the bargain with Parker.
“I’ll tell you now, we’ll be talking about it during the season,” Bochy said. “He’ll go through his tough periods when he’s fighting it a little bit.”
Parker has his warts against lefties, too. He hit .108/.154/.216 against them last year.
But perhaps the Giants are more open minded to seeing what a power hitter from their system can do after watching the Reds’ Adam Duvall, a player they drafted and developed, make an NL All-Star team while hitting 33 home runs and driving in 107 last season.
The Giants always knew Duvall could hit for power but they were unsure how it would play in their ballpark. He was a below average third baseman. So they included him in the trade deadline deal that allowed them to rent right-hander Mike Leake in the hopes of boosting a needy rotation in 2015.
If they misevaluated Duvall, it was his ability to become a defensive asset in left field.
“We hated to lose Duvall but we were in the middle of a pennant race and needed a pitcher, and that’s how it goes,” Bochy said. “Parker’s power is intriguing, just like Duvall’s power. You never know how it’s going to play. With Adam, it played pretty well. Our hope is it’ll be the same with Parker, or even with a Mac Williamson.”
The Giants will give Parker the opportunity that his good friend and former minor league roommate had to get traded to receive.
“Me and Duvy have a good relationship and we keep track of each other,” Parker said. “When we were in Triple-A, we’d go back and forth with home runs. So whenever he hit a home run last year, I’d text him: `Hey, slow down,’ or `You’ve got enough.’
“Duvy is a great player and a good guy. So it was really cool to see him have that success.”
Even though Parker had the job won shortly after arriving in camp, he still had plenty more at stake this spring. He knows he is likely to be platooned, but he wants to prove he can hit lefties. So he sought out Bonds to ask for advice.
“One thing I thought was interesting was his thought process with different arm slots,” Parker said. “When it was more of an over-the-top lefty, he would be looking more to pull, but if the arm slot was lower he tried to stay toward left center. That’s been my approach as well.”
Bonds told Parker that he always used the team’s left-handed batting practice pitcher, John Yandle, even if he was facing three right-handers in a series.
“I didn’t even want to see a right-hander in BP,” Bonds said. “I didn’t care. I’m going to see those guys every day. I didn’t need it as much. I needed to work on my weaknesses and not seeing lefties on a regular basis can lead to a weakness.
“And then if you don’t have success right away, then people start to second guess you as a hitter, and you shouldn’t feel that way. I mean, it’s not that easy.”
It is never easy when you are the Giants left fielder, and Barry Bonds continues to cast a shadow.
Bonds made sure Parker understood something about that, too.
“As a hitter, you’re not going to get everything right now, and some people are going to put pressure on you, and that’s just the way life goes,” Bonds said. “He sat there and said to me, `There’s so much pressure on you here.’ And I laughed.
“I said, `I know how to handle this one now. Think of it this way, Parker: you were a talented Little Leaguer. You were one of the best in high school. Think of your college coaches yelling at you all the time. It’s because you had that talent, and they expected to see it. So you can’t take it to heart. They want you to be good. That’s it. You have this unbelievable talent. Just play your game and each year will get better.’
“Because trust me, they don’t get rid of talent.”