After years of setbacks, Evan Parker set to become first Ogden native to play for Raptors
OGDEN — Baseball is still a love story for Evan Parker, even if it’s been a cruel mistress.
But nearly seven years since he last pitched in an official game, he’s ready to take the mound again and make history in the process.
Parker, who worked last season as the bullpen coach for the Ogden Raptors, will suit up as a player and a coach this season as the team begins its second year as an independent club in the Pioneer League. It is believed he’ll be the first-ever Ogden native to play for the Raptors since the club launched in 1994.
“I’m very proud to be involved with the Raptors and have everything kind of come full circle in my career, that I end up in my hometown doing what I love. I feel very fortunate,” Parker said.
The only other known Weber County native to suit up for the Raptors is Tycen PoVey, who was raised in Washington Terrace but prepped at Northridge High School. He appeared in 11 games for the Raptors in 2007.
But the road to being a player again has been anything but direct. Parker, now 29, has taken the surgical knife to his right elbow three times since first becoming a pro in 2015.
“It takes a little bit of wind out of your sails. It’s a very grueling thing,” he said.
Parker, an admittedly slight, 6-foot-2 thrower, was a key pitcher for Bonneville High School’s two-year run from 2010-11 that saw the Lakers go 40-14 and win a Region 5 title. Thanks to some good performances at a showcase at Western Nevada College, he latched on there for his first two years of college ball.
Chris Pfatenhauer, an assistant at the University of Nevada-Reno, was recruiting Parker at the time he was hired to be the head coach at Dixie State. With a history of helping players find pro scouting exposure, and in his home state, it seemed DSU was meant to be for Parker’s final two college seasons.
That turned out well for Parker, who set the program’s single-season record for saves in 2014 with 13. Then, after turning down some pro interest after his junior season, he did it again in 2015 with 13 more saves as a senior to become DSU’s all-time saves leader.
Parker was signed in 2015 by the Milwaukee Brewers — the same team to draft his Dixie teammate and Roy High alum Bubba Blau the year prior, one of the handful of Weber County natives to at least play in Ogden as a Raptors opponent — and was quickly sent to the Arizona League.
But Parker only threw 5 1/3 innings in five appearances that July before being shut down due to his workload from the recent college season, and a few months later he had surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow.
He hasn’t seen the field in an official game since, though he’s had plenty of work in a cycle of training, rehab and scouting opportunities.
He spent 2016 in the Brewers organization but didn’t play, never feeling fully healthy. He began working with Clay Sniteman, an Ogden-area physical therapist, then found his way to Seattle for a spot with the esteemed baseball training facility Driveline, which has famously worked out pitchers like Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen.
“I’m throwing 95-96 (mph) up there and really started to open some avenues,” Parker said.
But in August 2017, he injured his elbow and required his first ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, commonly called Tommy John surgery, performed by Tom Noonan, the medical director of the Colorado Rockies.
From then until now, Parker credits Sniteman and Noonan for their roles in getting him, physically, to a place where he has the opportunity to throw as a pro again. Parker has regularly consulted with them on therapy and training regimens, performance thresholds and more as he’s tried to find his way to the mound again.
Not long after his first Tommy John surgery, Parker opened a training facility in Ogden, mostly to benefit his own rehabilitation and work. But in early 2018, he realized his baseball passion included helping others train and grow. So he lined up a business license and insurance and began training others. That boosted his credibility and ultimately proved a factor in his ability to join the Raptors’ staff in 2021.
“You get involved and … realize how much you love game-planning for other guys and their training,” Parker said.
He was still trying to be a professional pitcher, though. Through his training spot at Driveline, he pitched for scouts for the CPBL, the professional league in China and Taiwan, and was getting free-agent interest in the states around August 2019. But an injury set him back, so he paused until October of that year.
Though he hasn’t thrown in a game since 2015, Parker counts his experiences late in 2019 — both at Driveline and at free-agent showcases — as competitive pitching.
“At Driveline, they put me in pro-style, live at-bats and that’s as jacked up as I’ve been,” Parker said. “I love the game, the crowd, the umpires, the whole deal. But that live at-bat stuff at Driveline is a Coliseum battle. You’ve got 100 people standing around you and it’s just you, the catcher and the hitter. And everything you do is getting judged — your spin rate, your velo pops up on the screen. So that counts for me.”
But the prospects of playing in the well-paying CPBL took a back seat a few months later with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. So Parker said he doubled down on finding an opportunity in the states, got to Driveline as often as virus restrictions allowed in 2020, and had an eye to put together a full, healthy offseason and get his shot in 2021.
Until one more injury, which required a second Tommy John surgery in October 2020.
“Dr. Noonan says if I want to continue, he suggests I need surgery again to make my last run at this,” Parker said.
By this time, the writing is on the wall for Dave Baggott, president of the Ogden Raptors, that his team’s time as an affiliated minor league club since 1996 may be coming to an end after a push from some Major League Baseball team owners and the commissioner to contract the number of affiliated teams and players across the country — despite opposition from farm directors and developmental coaches in their minor league systems.
If the Raptors were to continue as an independent team, that would leave Baggott in charge of hiring a coaching staff and, eventually, a roster of players. He’s known of Parker — “I’m hearing you’re the pitching guru,” Parker recalls him saying — and called the Ogden native to see if they could work something out for Parker to coach, and with an eye toward him playing again when healthy.
It worked out “famously,” Parker says, because he learned his wife Ashlyn was pregnant and the prospect of coaching — and maybe playing — in Ogden was as perfect as things could get.
“I’m getting to coach and play pro baseball in my hometown. I’m literally living in the house I’d live in anyway, I’m driving five minutes to the field every day. I’m going to my job in professional baseball. I feel as fortunate as anyone could, to be honest,” he said.
Though he’ll be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of players in the Pioneer League, the league’s criteria for eligible players allows him to compete because of his scant affiliated service time. Generally, a player can have no more than three years of such experience to be eligible for the league.
Returning to the field still wasn’t a given, however. After the 2021 season, Ogden manager Dean Stiles moved back to affiliated grace as a pitching coach in the Detroit Tigers organization. Baggott hired Kash Beauchamp as the manager for the 2022 season.
Beauchamp is a former No. 1 overall pick (1982, Toronto Blue Jays) and has extensive minor-league managing experience, especially in independent leagues, since 1994. He has been an independent league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks since 2017.
Baggott encouraged Beauchamp to at least consider keeping Parker on staff. Over the course of a week, Beauchamp spoke with Parker on the phone for five hours or so, learning about his philosophies, what he’d improve from last season and more.
“Probably about a week into that process, he called me back and said ‘dude, every player that I’ve talked to has asked me if you’re coming back. When those guys are doing the talking for you, that says everything I need to know,'” Parker recalls Beauchamp saying. “It felt good to have that kind of support. I’m used to having that as a player … but to get that kind of pat on my back in my first pro season as a coach, that felt really good. And it gave me the confidence that I can coach guys at this level.
“(Baggott) is very respectful of, when he hires someone, what they think and what they want to do. So Kash was very instrumental in saying hey, I want this guy on my staff and I want him to have a uniform to be able to throw.”
So after years of lurching forward and braking, lurching forward and braking, like a motorist slowly trying to filter past a crash site on a crowded highway, Parker is ready to hit the gas and burn past his roadblocks.
His training regiment should have him ready to go just as the season begins May 25 or, if not then, soon into the first week of play.
“I’m feeling great,” Parker said, adding that he’s currently throwing at about 85% intensity. “I’m putting the ball where I want it, throwing a slider, a change-up, everything is working.”
He said he’s inching up the ladder, reaching his benchmarks and even hitting 100 mph in a “pull-down,” an exercise that involves pitching with a crow-hop leading into the throw. The plan is for Parker to pitch out of the bullpen at least twice in every six-game series, if not every other day.
“If I can be at 93 or 94 putting the ball wherever I want, I think I’m going to have a really good year,” Parker said. “If I come back and can be myself again, dude, I’m going to be a large contributor to this team this year. I’ve definitely set my sights on putting my stamp on this opportunity and really capitalizing on it.
“Obviously, I’ve got to cleat up this year and prove that I’m still that guy,” he continued, “but I couldn’t be more excited about this year, about my future with the Raptors. I feel as fortunate as anyone could, to be honest.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated from its original version to provide more information about Ogden and Weber County natives to have played for the Raptors.