When Parker Bridwell received a phone call in the offseason informing him that the Orioles were adding him to their 40-man roster, he was understandably shocked.
The 24-year-old right-hander's numbers aren't remarkable — he is 26-41 with a 4.83 ERA in six minor league seasons in the Orioles system — but his potential still is. His arsenal is that of a major league pitcher — a mid-90s fastball, a power curveball and plus changeup — and the Orioles wanted to ensure he wasn't taken by another team in December's Rule 5 draft, so they added him to the organizational roster.
"When I got the call, I couldn't believe it," Bridwell said. "That's what you work for your whole life and it's kind of surreal when it first happened. I'm thankful for the opportunity and obviously I won't take it for granted. Not many people get the opportunity to do this and the people who do get to do this don't get to do it for as long as they want."
That call came about three years after Bridwell made a much different phone call to his father, Keith, back in his hometown of Hereford, Texas. He called to tell his dad he had become so frustrated with his inconsistency that he planned on quitting professional baseball to go play college football. Before the Orioles drafted Bridwell in the ninth round in 2010, he had signed with Texas Tech and planned to play both baseball and football there.
Now, there's no question where Bridwell's future is, as he is pitching in his first big league camp. The Orioles wanted him to get a taste of being in the majors — pitching to big league hitters and learning what it's like to rebound from big league adversity.
"He can do this," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "That's what I wanted him to come out of this with, knowing he can do this. There's certain things that he's going to have to be consistent with. I like the fact that he's had no fear of competition. He's let it rip. That's what I've told him from the get-go. Let's go, man. Let it hunt."
Bridwell could be sent down to minor league camp this week — players just added to the 40-man roster can be optioned starting Monday. But the Orioles saw this spring as a valuable learning process for Bridwell.
"Coming into my first big league camp, I didn't want to go out there and have an outing where I was nervous or looked like I didn't belong on the field with big league players," Bridwell said. "I think I do belong. I didn't not want to look the part. So yeah, I feel like I just need to go out there and trust my stuff."
The Orioles knew other teams were interested in Bridwell. Other teams constantly bring his name up in trade discussions, but the Orioles want to make sure if he pops, it will be with them.
"He's right where he needs to be," Showalter said. "He's a guy whose name comes up all the time when teams are talking to us about stuff because of the presentation, but there's more there than just the presentation."
Throughout his time in the minors, he has had to battle inconsistency. When he's on, he has been great, but he hasn't been able to put it all together over the course of a season. Last year, he was 4-5 with a 3.99 ERA over 18 starts, but take away a five-start stretch in May and Bridwell was 4-2 with a 3.23 ERA before elbow tendinitis ended his season one month early.
He's still trying to find consistency, but he's in a much better place than he was in 2012, when he was ready to quit baseball after struggling with Low-A Delmarva.
"He had made up his mind that that was what he wanted to do," said his father, Keith. "That was the first time he had really seen what I would call failure in sports or not being above the competition. He struggled with it for a few years and he called me one time and said, I think I want to go back and play college football.
"… I told him, [the Orioles] say you've got all the tools. They just say you've got to put the time in baseball like these other guys have. If you go back to college football and there are guys there who are a lot bigger than you and can outrun you, I don't think it's a very good idea. He agreed and he stuck with it and hopefully it's going to pay off."
A former high school quarterback in Hereford, a small town about 50 miles southwest of Amarillo, Texas, he received interest from a dozen schools to play football. Football was his first love, but he decided that baseball was the better option because he had the better chance to have a longer career and avoid injuries that could affect him later in life.
The Orioles keep in mind that Bridwell hasn't played that much baseball. While his friends were playing 70 to 130 games per year in year-round travel ball, he played a 10-game youth season. It wasn't until he attended his first showcase before his senior year that he thought baseball was a possibility beyond high school.
"I haven't played baseball for most of my life like a lot of people in the game," Bridwell said. "I think just the more pitches I throw and the more repetition I get, the more my body feels that release point every time. I just think the more I do it, the better I'll get. And honestly, I've seen improvements in my command and my focus. You've got to keep getting better, just because you never know. You might get a chance and you have to be ready for it. I don't want to miss my chance and not be ready for it."
This spring, Showalter was impressed by Bridwell's second spring outing. Bridwell retired the first seven batters he faced in Grapefruit League play until he allowed a deep home run to Minnesota Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario. Bridwell was determined to show that homer wasn't going to affect him. He immediately got back to work and retired the next two hitters he faced. This spring, Bridwell has allowed two runs in 4 2/3 innings, yielding five hits, striking out two and walking two.
"Right after he hit that home run I told myself, 'Get back on that rubber,'" Bridwell said. "I wanted to be waiting for that [next] batter. I want to be on the rubber before he even steps in that box, just to send the message that that already happened. I can't go get that ball back from over the fence and take that run off the board. So yeah, that's been part of what I've been trying to work on, just having that short-term memory. You can't do anything about the pitch you just threw. The only thing that matters is the one you're about to throw."
Said Showalter, "I talk to him all the time about his presentation, 'Get up on [the mound]. You're going to give up a wind-blown home run up here, but it's what you do after that fact that gets our attention.'"
Bridwell knows he's not far away from the majors. He saw reliever Mychal Givens, his teammate in Bowie last year, get promoted to the Orioles from Double-A. He has known about the major league shuttle from Triple-A Norfolk, so he realizes that making an impression this spring can place him on the short list of pitchers who could come up when the team needs an extra arm.
"That's part of coming into spring ready," Bridwell said. "You want to do anything you can to just keep your name in the back of their head and I think coming into spring training ready kind of sends a message to them that I know what I have to do. I'm not here to spend a couple weeks here and get cut the first round of cuts. That's not me. But I think it's definitely important to put my name in the back of their heads and just keep making them think. I can only control what I can control. If they call me, I'll be ready."