About 5 minutes after I finished speaking with J.J. Hardy, I switched tapes in my tape recorder and sat down to speak with one of the top pitching prospects in the system, lefthander Manny Parra. Many of you know the interesting story behind Manny's signing with the Brewers through the draft and follow process, but if you don't, this will be even more interesting. Many thanks to Manny for taking the time to talk with me and for being so candid about his past, present, and future.
Thanks again for spending some time talking with me. Tell Brewer fans about yourself and something that most people don't know about you.
"My name is, of course, Manny Parra. I'm a left handed pitcher, drafted in the 26th round out of American River Junior College (in 2001). In high school during my freshman and sophomore seasons, I didn't pitch much at all, maybe one or two games, about 10 innings total. The reason for that was that I was young for my grade, a year younger than pretty much everyone else, and I was really (physically) immature my freshman year, I was 5'3, about 120 pounds. I played football and got beat all around the place. About my junior year, I started growing a lot, and I got to 5'11 or 6'0. I got to pitch more that year, I wasn't one of the best pitchers on the team, but I started seeing a pitching coach and I started getting better by a bit. My first year in junior college I matured a lot, got a lot better. I went through some arm problems, but fought threw them. And then in my sophomore season there I got a lot better, worked my butt off to get to the point I got."
Where did you grow up?
"I grew up in the suburbs of Sacramento, or more the outlying areas of Sacramento, around the Orangeville area, in Carmichael. There were normal little suburbs and there were also these areas where cowboys hung out."
Ed. Note: I was wearing a cowboy hat at the time and chose to note that I was, in fact, neither a cowboy or from Orangeville.
When did you start playing baseball?
"I didn't start playing until I was about 8 or 9. The funny thing was, the first year I played, I wanted to quit. I actually left practice once and my dad chewed me out for that, so I kept playing."
Did you have any baseball idols growing up?
"Yah, definitely. My first idol was Will Clark and my favorite team has always been the Giants. In '93, when Bonds came over, I went to a Giants game, the first game I ever went to, and he hit two home runs, and from then on, I've been a Barry Bonds fan."
What positions did you play growing up and through high school?
"First base and pitcher. I've been a pitcher since I first started playing. I also played some outfield, but mostly pitcher and some first base."
Were scouted out of high school for baseball?
How much were scouted out of American River JC?
"Pretty good. I remember my freshman year I got a couple of little cards, profile cards, that players normally get. We played against Sacramento City JC, which is a pretty well known junior college that always has some good prospects, every Thursday, so I happened to be seen by a lot of scouts there, and then they started to follow me around."
How much effort did the Brewers give to signing you immediately after the draft?
"There wasn't any pressure, really. I hadn't really shown too much in terms of what my ability was because I had been hurt and I was only throwing about 84 during our season. Then I got a call from the Brewers scout in my area that advised me about a baseball camp, and I went to it. Then my arm finally recovered during that and two weeks after the season I hit 90 for the first time. Just from that, I was thinking maybe they were saying 'Whoa, we got to get this kid,' but at the same time, 'Let's make sure he can stay healthy for a year,' because that was the biggest thing for me, since I had arm surgery. There wasn't too much pressure, it was more like 'What do you think?' and I told them I wasn't ready to go yet."
What kind of arm surgery did you have?
"Midway through my senior year in high school in December of '99, I had a fracture in the tip of my elbow, a stress fracture that the doctors said wasn't even from baseball. I grew really fast so my bones were weak and I started lifting weights, and I started throwing more and little bit harder. So, they had to go in a put a screw in my elbow and take some bone from my hip and put it in my elbow, and I haven't had a problem with it since."
Tell me about the somewhat unique process you went through in getting signed by the Brewers.
"They followed me over the summer after they drafted me, my scout would always come out to the games and watch me. I played Junior Legion to have some fun and develop myself. As time went on, we started developing a relationship, which is what a scout is supposed to do, you go to lunch with them, they talk to you, tell you what you need to improve on, little thing like that. They're trying to pick your head at the same time too, trying to see what kind of guy you are, they want to get to know you, and they want you to get to know them. They tell you what the Brewers are about and you get to learn a lot from them. As the season goes on, they start bringing more guys out, like the cross-checkers, some of the higher guys, to make sure they make sure they knew how good I was, to get second opinions from the higher guys."
How much thought did you give to reentering the draft?
"A lot. In all honesty, I didn't know if I was going to sign on that last day. I remember thinking that I may be going back to school, I really didn't know what was going to happen that night. When I got in the house and we started talking, you could see that they were really getting down to business and that we were going to get it done. It worked kind of slowly for the first week or two, but on that last night, everything got done. It was a grueling process, but at the same time, it ended up well."
Are you happy with your decision?
"I don't regret a thing."
Describe the adjustment between JuCo ball and ball down in Arizona.
"It's huge. You have metal bats in junior college ball and the hitters are OK or good, but you might think a hitter is good in junior college, but the truth is they are getting away with things with those metal bats. I could throw a hard fastball in, but they could just nub it into the outfield without even hitting it hard. With wooden bats in pro ball, it's better for me. I like throwing to wood bats better because when I throw inside, a good pitch inside, I get the results I deserve, like breaking a bat. On the other hand, in pro ball the game is a lot quicker and the hitters are better, they'll adjust more quickly. You can throw 95, but they'll time it out pretty quickly. It's definitely a lot tougher but now that I've learned how to pitch inside, and have gotten confident pitching inside, its been better for me this year."
In Ogden, the Brewers often had you pitching to work on certain things instead of just going out there and trying to beat batters with your best stuff. What are some of the things you worked on?
"It's kind of funny that you bring that up. One time, I went out there and had a 1-2-3 inning and I felt good about it and I went in the dugout and Mark Littell, the pitching coach, just got on me, he was like 'What are you doing out there, throwing a bunch of curveballs?' How I pitched in junior college was, I'd throw a curveball in a fastball situation, which is a good thing to learn, but the thing in Ogden that they want you to learn to do is to make hitters make contact, and so they got mad at me, well, not too mad, but they wanted me to learn how to not go and try to strike everybody out or trick hitters, but throw more fastballs, work the plate, throw more strikes and save your arm a little bit. That was one thing, and the other thing was learning how to pitch inside. It wasn't the best parts of my ability that they had me working on, it was getting me confident in my myself to throw pitches inside and to not throw so many curveballs. If you have a fastball to blow by people, that's great too, but you still have to pitch inside."
Did the Brewers do anything with your mechanics when you came into the organization?
"From the wind-up, they had me start going more over my head with my arm, which keeps me back over my back leg longer because I tend to drift. And in the stretch, I used to bring my leg up and read the runner at first base, but now I just use the slide-step every time. We're still going to make adjustments, but that's what they wanted me to learn at that level."
Were you satisfied with the results of your first season?
"Yes, definitely; I had a good time and I think I pitched well. The only thing that I can see that when I look back that tells a lot of the tale is that my opponents' batting average was .298 and that's something that this year I'm going to make sure comes way down. I didn't walk to many people and didn't give up too many earned runs, but with my opponent batting average the way it was, it tells me threw too many pitches, had too many runners on base. I could have made it a lot easier on myself by getting more hitters out."
What were your biggest challenges your first season?
"Being confident in the stuff I've been talking about, throwing inside and trusting my stuff. I was pretty durable all season and I enjoyed going out there every day. The hardest thing for me to do was, after having a bad game, trying to figure out what I needed to do to come back out and have a good game."
What was your favorite moment of your first season?
"I threw 7 innings with 70 pitches one night and then Mark Littell gave me a compliment in the newspaper that I could have pitched in the big leagues that night. It may not have been true, but it was a big compliment to me because I knew that the point he was getting across was that I finally did what they were telling me to do, let the hitters get themselves out, and quickly."
What is your first spring training like?
"It's been cool. We went to Milwaukee that first week, that was awesome. It was the first year that we've done that, so I got lucky in being able to do that. In the minicamp, I had a great time. It's changed a little bit since everyone has gotten here and we've gotten into groups. We've been out there longer, there are a lot more people to work around. It's been going great, and pitching in that big league game was awesome."
Were there any things that surprised you about how spring training is run?
"About the only thing is that I'm surprised at how many people there are around in the minor league structure of the camp. I would have thought that with the new front office that there would have been more of the old guys gone. I haven't been to a spring training before, so I really didn't know how it was supposed to go. I know that they are making these clear-cut goals that we are supposed to go after. They are definitely making the effort to communicate with us what we need to do to get to the next level."
What are your thoughts about pitching in the cold weather of Beloit?
"I've never pitched in weather that cold. I'm from Sacramento where it is pretty warm. I've thought about it and it's going to be a challenge and talked to other people about, how the cold weather is tough on you. In all honesty, I don't want to pitch in cold, cold weather, but it is something I am going to have to deal with. They have cold weather in Milwaukee, too, so I might as well learn to deal with it early in my career, it's just the road you take."
What pitches do you throw?
"I throw a 4-seam fastball and a 2-seam fastball, the 2-seam fastball I throw away from a right-handed hitter. I've been messing around with a cutter, which I did throw last year a little bit and it worked well, but I don't really know if I need it if I'm able to spot my 4-seam enough. I also have a curveball, and I throw it hard. I have a changeup, and that is getting better and better. I used to throw a split-finger fastball, but I cut that out."
Terry Byrom, the 2002 voice of the Raptors, mentioned that you also had a knuckleball/ephus pitch that the Brewers wouldn't let you use.
"Oh, man. That was more of a joke than anything else. Everyone gives me a hard time because I have like 7 pitches or whatever. It's a pretty good knuckleball, I can mess around with it, but it is never anything I've ever thought about throwing in a game. The guys sometimes ask why I didn't throw in a game, but in reality, you can't throw all these other pitches because you have to work on three or two pitches. They say if you can master two pitches, if you can throw them at any time, and with consistency, you can pitch in the big leagues. If you are working on 7 or 8 pitches, you're not going to master them. You'll be a master of none and a jack of all trades."
How fast does your fastball top out at and how fast does it run during the game?
"It tops out at about 95. I didn't hit 96 at all last season in Ogden, but I hit it in junior college three or four times. So, about 95, though there is no telling what this year will have in store. I usually sit between 90 and 92, sometimes a little higher, like 93 to 94 or 91 to 93, but most of the time it is 90 to 92."
What is your favorite pitch?
"Right now it's the fastball. I used to have a lot of fun with the split-finger but that wasn't needed in my repertoire. I really like throwing the curveball, but I've learned to love throwing the fastball."
A lot was made of the fact that one year you were pitching 85 miles per hour and the next season, you were pitching 95 miles per hour. Tell me about the work routine that you went through.
"After I graduated high school, I lifted weights a lot. One time, I went out with some friends and started lifting and it was just a basic workout routine, but I just stayed with it consistently. I was trying to get bigger and stronger because at that point, I was pretty small as far as mass goes. I was doing heavy, heavy weight for a pitcher, but at the same time, I ran a lot. I do a lot of running, like in practice, we do our conditioning and then afterward I might go out to the track and run more. I'd say during my sophomore year at junior college, it was more about running; my coach had told me to calm down on the weights. So, my freshman year I did more weights and sophomore year I did more running. I give a lot of credit to that, but at the same time, I just grew up."
What is your greatest strength on the mound?
"During a game I'm able to stay pretty controlled, so I'd say poise for the most part. When I was younger, I didn't really have that, but since then I've learned to just go on, go one pitch at a time, so that's my best attribute."
What is your greatest weakness?
"In between innings, I analyze things too much. I could have pitched a great inning, or even a great game, and I'll go in and analyze things to much, think to myself, 'Well, maybe I could have done this better.' I wonder if that makes me better or not. I think it can make you better but also can make you worse, when you analyze things too much. You can't be better than what you are. If you throw a curveball and the guy swings and misses, you can't go back out there and throw it even better."
What do you think about when you are on the mound?
"I'm thinking about what pitch I'm going to throw to the batter, and where I'm going to place it. While I'm getting the ball ready and gathering myself, it is almost like a personal thing between me and the hitter. It's like I don't like him, and I want to get this out. While I'm getting the sign and getting the pitch I want ready, I'm picturing where I want to throw it and what the result is going to be."
What is the most important objective for a pitcher besides winning the game for his team?
"The most important objective is getting better, trying to get better every outing, going out there each time and making an improvement, especially at our level, the minor league level, because you aren't in the big leagues yet, so there must be something you need to work on, and if you work on it hard enough, you'll get to the big leagues eventually."
How much of pitching is mental versus physical?
"Pitching is at least 60 percent mental, if not more. Probably closer to 80 percent. If you don't have the competitive attitude out there, the confidence, if you don't have the determination, you might have the ability to throw that fastball right where you want it, but if your mind is telling you 'Don't hit the hitter' your body is not going to throw the ball right. If your mind is telling you one thing and your body wants to do another thing, you aren't going to get it done."
What do you see as your place in the organization right now?
"I definitely see myself as a starter in the big leagues one day, with the Brewers. What position in the rotation? I don't know. There are a lot of things that can happen. I expect myself to get a lot better. How much better I get is something that is going determine where I end up once I get there."
What are the teams' goals for you this season?
"They know that I understand how I need to pitch, but now it is going out there and executing. It's not just saying 'I'm going to do it.' I need to do it. I'm need to go out there and show them that I can pitch inside, and throw my changeup with consistency. It is going to be the consistency that is going to take me up there. If I'm consistent, I'll go to the big leagues, no problem."
How long do you think that is going to take?
"I think I have the ability to earn a September call-up next season."
What is your confidence level for getting to Milwaukee?
"It is 100 percent. I know I'm going to be in Milwaukee, to me there is no doubt about it. The only things that could stop me would be me breaking down mentally, which won't happen, or me injuring myself. More than anything else, maybe the only fear that I have, or any pitcher can have, is in risk of injury. I have the ability and I have the mental strength."
Thanks again to Manny for taking the time to speak with me and share some stuff about himself with the Brewerfan public. As always, if there are any questions or comments, feel free to email me at email@example.com.