When the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds begin a new season tonight in the New York-Penn League, hosting Hudson Valley, right-hander Parker Bridwell be the Birds’ starting pitcher.
Many fans know his name because Bridwell received the third-largest bonus of any O’s draft pick last year behind Manny Machado and Conner Narron. Taken in the ninth round out of Hereford (Texas) High School, Bridwell got a $625,000 bonus, which was more than some players taken in the second round.
With that bonus have come higher expectations for a young pitcher that won’t turn 20 until Aug. 2.
“I try to stay away from (high expectations), honestly. In one ear and out the other and just focus on baseball.That’s my job,” Bridwell said this week at Ripken Stadium.
Some fans were surprised when Bridwell didn’t start this season with a full-season affiliate in April, but the Orioles felt he needed to stay at extended spring training and get daily coaching and instruction there to improve his game and his pitches.
Bridwell said there were some specifics things he worked on the last few months in Sarasota.
“From the stretch, I wasn’t getting a very good load on my back leg. But now I transfer all my weight to my back leg, so I am getting more of a good load. With that, that helps everything to stay in line and not get out in front. I’m using my whole body now, not just my arm and my upper body. The legs are a big part of pitching,” he said.
Bridwell said his velocity has been between 93 and 96 mph at extended spring training, but there were reports that one pitch he threw for Single-A Delmarva Saturday night registered 100 mph on the stadium gun.
Bridwell got rained out of that outing and earlier gave up five runs over 4 2/3 June 4 for Delmarva.
Now he is with Aberdeen and gets the opening night start tonight.
“I feel honored and excited. I pitched here at the end of the year last year and I loved it. They’ve got great fans and I’m very excited,” Bridwell said.
Bridwell was a three-sport star in high school and some college programs wanted him as a quarterback before he signed with the Orioles. Now he is ready to get the ball every fifth day and continue his development as a young pitcher that some feel can one day lead to him becoming a top O’s pitching prospect.
He said solid command and the continued progression of his offspeed pitches will be big for him this summer.
“Just filling the zone up and throwing strikes. Throwing my offspeed for strikes when I need to will be a big key. If I do those things, I think I’ll be all right,” he said.
“I changed the grip on my changeup during spring training and I have the feel for it better now. My slider is a lot sharper and breaks later.”
The IronBirds are beginning their 10th season tonight. They are 5-4 all-time on opening day. Right now, Aberdeen doesn’t have any draft picks from 2011 on the roster, but that is expected to change over the next week or so as more picks sign and go through workouts and processing in Sarasota before getting sent to a club.