Tommy Parsons has had a strong spring, allowing just two earned runs in nine innings. Additionally, he has walked just two hitters as his excellent control allows him to still be effective despite not striking out many hitters (7 this spring). While this success has perhaps been unexpected, Parsons has had a strong minor league career after signing with the St. Louis Cardinals as an undrafted free agent out of Division 3 Adrian College.
Parsons spent his entire debut season (2018) at the Rookie level where he posted a 3.00 ERA, with a less impressive 4.61 FIP. Then, in 2019, Parsons began the season at the A-Advanced level before receiving a promotion to Double-A, and then a brief promotion to Triple-A as well.
It is impressive that Parsons was able to receive two promotions in the same season, especially after skipping Single-A Peoria. However, after dominating the A-Advanced level, Parsons could not replicate his success at Double-A or Triple-A as he finished with a 6.13 FIP at Double-A Springfield and a 8.40 FIP at Triple-A Memphis.
However, it is not a bad sign that Parsons struggled at the upper levels of the minor leagues. To begin with, he was facing Division 3 opponents two years before he was facing Double-A and Triple-A hitters. That is a large jump and it happened very quickly for Parsons. Additionally, he is a control pitcher who can struggle to miss bats. Thus, against upper level minor league hitters, he is not going to get away with missing in the middle of the zone. This is likely why his home run rate spiked when he reached Double-A (2.81 HR/9).
This was the first major roadblock in his professional career. He has always been capable of living in the strike zone and avoiding walks as his 4.3% walk rate in 2018 is the highest walk rate that he has posted at any minor league level (excluding a five inning sample in Triple-A). However, he needs to improve on his ability to avoid the barrel of the bat if he wants to debut in 2021. The 25-year-old already saw an uptick in his strikeout rate in 2019 as he fanned nearly 23% of the batters that he faced after striking out just 18.5% in 2018. Thus, with his excellent control and an increasing strikeout rate, Parsons seems to have the potential to be a solid big league arm.
However, it remains to be seen if he fixed his home run problem in 2020. 2.81 HR/9 seems high, even for someone who does struggle with allowing home runs, so there will likely be a decrease in his home run rate in 2021. However, it seems likely that Tommy Parsons will begin the 2021 season at the Triple-A level, despite his strong spring. Once the minor league season begins, he will need to prove that he can keep the ball in the yard. If he can do that, however, then he will likely be pitching well enough to earn a promotion to St. Louis.
It is difficult to tell how much Parsons improved without minor league statistics in 2020. However, he has had a strong spring, which provides plenty of hope for his improvement, even if it is just a 9 inning sample. Thus, Parsons could be the next pitcher that the Cardinals pull out of obscurity to become a solid major league contributor in the rotation or the bullpen. For this to happen, he will need to show the necessary improvement in home run rate, but for an undrafted pitcher, the Cardinals have seemingly found value from the most unlikely of places.