Feeling strong, Parra out to reclaim outfield role

Feeling strong, Parra out to reclaim outfield role

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Gerardo Parra greeted with a hug and a smile that could warm a day that he termed "mucho, mucho, mucho frio" -- even though he was carrying white-rimmed sunglasses.

"Watch this," Parra said.

Then he lifted his right foot and pogoed on the left foot for a few seconds.

"I'm jumping," he said. "My ankle is not bad anymore."

Parra signed a three-year, $27.5 million contract with the Rockies last winter to play left field, struggled at times with the expectations that came with the deal, then was essentially grounded when he suffered a high sprain of the left ankle June 14 and missed 46 games. After he returned, he played in 39 games -- 19 of them at first base. He finished with a .253 batting average and .271 on-base percentage.

It was Parra's first year as a free-agent signee and the first time he had to go to the disabled list in an eight-season career. Those are firsts he didn't celebrate this offseson.

"It was not easy for me, but that's past," Parra said during a Winter Caravan stop at the Rockies Dugout Store in Colorado Springs. "That's last year. Right now I feel 100 percent. I want to be 100 percent for my team."

Parra's solo home run

Parra, who turns 30 on May 6, simply wants to reset and forget.

Parra's social-media accounts have been full of workout footage, whether it's strength and balance exercises or hitting in the cage. He plans to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic this spring. He also has his intentions on reclaiming his spot in the outfield in 2017.

The Rockies didn't exactly suffer in Parra's absence. David Dahl, a former top Draft pick, took advantage of the chance that Parra's absence gave him by hitting .315 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs in 63 games. Raimel Tapia, another top prospect, appeared in 22 games and hit .263. Throw in established stars Charlie Blackmon in center and Carlos Gonzalez in right, and the Major League roster has five left-handed-hitting outfielders, with Jordan Patterson (who also plays first base) another lefty.

Whether it's an embarrassment of riches or an unwieldy crowd is up for interpretation. And the Rockies added outfield competition by signing right-handed-hitting veteran Chris Denorfia, who played for new Rockies manager Bud Black for five seasons with the Padres. Lefty-hitting utility man Alexi Amarista, another ex-Padre, can play the outfield and middle infield.

But Parra is out to show he can be as essential as he was believed to be when Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich signed him. Parra was coming off a .291/.328/.452 season with the Brewers and Orioles in 2015. Despite his struggles reaching base last season (nine walks in 381 plate appearances), Parra was second in the National League with 20 doubles at the time of the injury, which occurred when he and shortstop Trevor Story collided in shallow left field while chasing a fly ball.

Parra gets carted off

The Rockies have not made a deal to reduce the number of outfielders in general or lefty batters specifically. The $19.5 million left on Parra's contract would make him tough to trade anyhow, but Bridich has repeatedly expressed confidence in Parra bouncing back. And Parra believes him.

"I've talked to Jeff, yes, and my confidence is 100 percent," Parra said. "I know Tapia is a great player. I know Dahl is a great player. Everybody on the team is a great player. It's a hard situation for the manager, for the GM, but the big point is I feel I can help the team make the playoffs."

The Rockies also signed right-handed-hitting Ian Desmond -- who played shortstop for seven seasons with the Nationals and spent last season in the outfield with the Rangers -- to play first base at the start of a five-year, $70 million contract. There's always the possibility of playing Parra some at first base in matchup situations if he's not receiving playing time in the outfield. But he isn't entertaining that Plan B.

Parra heads into 2017 slightly lighter. Some have theorized that his heavily muscled legs have slowed him somewhat. Parra hasn't magically thinned out his legs, but he has concentrated more on speed, explosion and reaction.

"I don't want to play first base. ... Last year, I played first base because I couldn't run," Parra said. "I love playing my outfield. I think I help my team more in the outfield."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.