Jarrod Parker calls himself just an average, normal guy.
The 19-year-old from Indiana loves to play video games, especially Halo, play golf and go fishing. He's a laid-back kid who enjoys the simple Midwest life.
There is, however, one little thing that sets him apart from most of his peers: a 98 mph fastball.
The Arizona Diamondbacks' first pick (ninth overall) in the 2007 Draft and a late sign that summer, Parker just completed his first pro season at Class A South Bend, just a two-hour drive from his hometown of Ossian, a suburb of Fort Wayne with a population of roughly 3,000.
The debut was, by anyone's estimation, a hugely successful one.
In 24 starts, Parker went 12-5 with a 3.44 ERA, tying for third in the system in both wins and ERA, striking out 117 over 117 2/3 innings while showing impeccable control with only 33 walks.
After being used particularly carefully in a chilly April (he made his pro debut on April 11 on a blustery, wet, 40-degree night in Iowa), he went at least five innings in 17 of his last 21 starts and posted a 2.00 ERA in five August starts.
Parker more than met the goals that had been laid out for him by the Arizona player development staff during Spring Training in Tucson.
"We had set out with the idea that we wanted him to get a certain workload that would reach areas he'd never been before -- pitching over 100 innings, pitching every five days and getting him into a regular routine to manage the workload," said A.J. Hinch, the Diamondbacks' director of player development. "Along with that, he'd be developing a foundation for his style of pitching, understanding how to attack hitters and putting him into situations where he'd have to use all of his weapons."
In this case, those weapons weren't a 9-iron or a rod and reel but a repertoire of three pitches, highlighted by his heater but offset by a slider and changeup with above-average potential.
"I joked with him in instructs last year that he had never had to throw his off-speed pitches in high school because he could live off that fastball," Hinch said.
So for Parker, the 2008 campaign was going to be about learning to use all of his pitches to get both the physical and mental upper hand over opposing hitters.
"It needs to be in the back of the mind of hitters that he has several plus pitches so you can't gear to one way to beat Jarrod Parker," explained Hinch, a former catcher who understands the workings of the mind of both the pitcher and hitter. "And [Parker] has to understand that he's in control and can dictate the at-bat so he can pitch to his strengths."
It was a lesson Parker learned over the course of the season and will continue to work on in his second consecutive trip to the instructional league.
"I'm most comfortable throwing my fastball, obviously, moving it in and out and down in the zone," he said. "My slider is No. 2 and my changeup is No. 3, though sometimes one is better than the other and you don't always have all three working at the same time."
He's also working on pitch No. 4, a hard curveball. All three breaking pitches have above-average potential and, on any given day, one might be working better than the others. Hinch suggested you could talk to several scouts and hear any of the three referred to as Parker's second-best pitch.
"That's the beauty of having the weapons to go to," Hinch said. "But he'll run into a little difficulty trying to implement all of them."
Which explains a large part of Parker's focus while at instructs.
"This year, I'm looking forward to putting together my four pitches and be more mature as a pitcher," he said, "to learn more about the mental side of pitching."
Parker has also been lauded for his tremendous poise on the mound, though he said his calm demeanor is a little deceiving.
"On the mound, mentally I am a lot more intense than I seem," he said. "I'm probably more fiery than people see."
And a lot more people may be seeing Jarrod Parker before long. While the plan of having him spend the 2008 season at South Bend was completed, it was not because the Diamondbacks didn't think he could compete at a higher level. Instead, it was to allow him to achieve a basic pitching foundation that would allow him to rise that much faster.
"He probably could have pitched up to Double-A this year stuff-wise and in terms of maturity as he started to develop as a man," Hinch said. "But just like a house, once the foundation is built, the rest goes up pretty fast. Year two is probably the time to push the gas pedal a little and challenge him and see what he can do."
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.