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MLB draft: Plant City, FSU lefty Parker Messick blends 4-pitch mix with velocity surge

Messick is 54th on MLB’s prospect rankings, which would make him the highest selection in Plant City High history.
Parker Messick recorded 289 strikeouts in 200 1/3 innings during his Florida State career, while walking just 43 batters.
Parker Messick recorded 289 strikeouts in 200 1/3 innings during his Florida State career, while walking just 43 batters. [ BUTCH DILL | AP ]
Published Jul. 15

From his hotel room’s porch, Parker Messick answered a “warning call” from Mike Bell. The Florida State pitching coach wanted to know the reason behind Messick’s velocity dip since committing in September 2017.

It was just a bad start, the left-hander replied. His Florida Burn team had traveled out of town for a tournament, and Messick, fielding the call with family behind him, listened as Bell contextualized that poor outing with his path ahead: He wasn’t on the Florida State team yet — they could still cut him in the fall. A scholarship offer didn’t mean Messick could stop improving, either. Instead, Bell recalled saying, “it’s now time to take it to another level.”

“It was kinda, like, a scary moment,” Messick said.

Velocity had never been a strength until Messick started training with the Florida Baseball ARMory — one reason behind an under-the-radar recruiting trajectory — but he managed to increase his fastball speed by 8 mph while at Plant City High School. Then, he added more across three seasons at Florida State. Eventually, that growth meshed with a four-pitch mix and keyed a rise to MLB.com’s No. 54 prospect entering Sunday’s draft, a slot that would make him the highest pick in Plant City High history.

“It’s kind of crazy on one hand, but on the other hand, it’s like that’s just the next step for him,” said his father, T.J. Messick.

Learning the art of pitching

Parker Messick became Florida State's Friday night starter after spending his first season in the bullpen.
Parker Messick became Florida State's Friday night starter after spending his first season in the bullpen. [ CHRIS CARLSON | AP ]

Last summer, Messick wanted to add a fourth pitch to his mix while with Team USA’s collegiate national team. He always had the fastball. The sharp changeup joined his arsenal in high school, too. But he hadn’t perfected the slider.

Messick asked other pitchers on the USA roster about their approach, mashed different grips together and worked with FSU pitching coach Jimmy Belanger to incorporate the pitch. Developing a four-pitch mix helped extend starts deeper into games, Messick said.

It was the latest addition to a pitching foundation first constructed around eighth grade, when Messick began training at the Florida Baseball ARMory, now based out of Lakeland. He focused on body movement instead of a traditional pitching lesson’s mechanics, an approach that founder and CEO Randy Sullivan said focused on the “anatomy” of pitching. If Messick complied with Sullivan’s overarching, universal movement principles — centered around the pelvis, the chest, the rotations of both and a deceleration pattern that didn’t leave any shoulder or elbow stress — he could explore different mechanical tweaks.

Sullivan tried to eliminate thoughts about the movement while training, too. That type of “implicit learning” aligned with one of Sullivan’s ultimate goals: to turn Messick into a pitcher mirroring an Olympic gold medalist in luge. Racers with the fastest time made rapid adjustments on the fly, while those who finished later couldn’t control the adjustments or thought too much about them. He couldn’t consciously think about repeating mechanics. Instincts needed to take over.

“While other people are worrying about what they need to do with their elbow or their leg, he doesn’t really care about that …,” Sullivan said. “There’s nothing that he focuses on internally — he just focuses on the goal of the pitch.”

Messick took a 78 mph fastball as a high school freshman and stretched it into the high 80s three years later. He started using his current circle changeup grip because his hand had grown. He didn’t need to throw it like a palm ball anymore.

Over time, the changeup became his go-to pitch because he could manipulate differently to both left-handed and right-handed batters.

“What does he got, 289 career strikeouts at Florida State? I guarantee 200 of them are on that changeup,” his dad said.

Becoming a draft prospect

Before Florida State, Parker Messick led Plant City High School to the 2019 FHSAA Class 8A State Championship — recording an 11-1 record with a 1.06 ERA that year.
Before Florida State, Parker Messick led Plant City High School to the 2019 FHSAA Class 8A State Championship — recording an 11-1 record with a 1.06 ERA that year. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

When Messick left the Orioles’ Sarasota complex in 2017, he was thrilled. Everything worked during that Florida Burn showcase. The fastball. The changeup. He topped out at 89. And most of all, Florida Gulf Coast — the school that topped his list as a rising junior — was in attendance.

On his way home, though, high school coach Mike Fryrear reached out and said Bell wanted Messick to call as soon as possible. The FSU pitching coach had also attended, and he was impressed. Bell helped set up a visit to Florida State, and on the car ride home, Messick called the Seminoles’ staff to commit.

Messick “wasn’t setting the world on fire” at that stage of his high school career, his dad said. But he followed his commitment — and then Bell’s challenge — with a senior season that cemented a high school ERA of 1.58, a 21-10 record and 11 complete games. Messick plowed through Plant City’s eventual state championship lineup that fall, and his senior year ended with an 11-1 record, a 1.06 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio just under 7:1.

“That’s when I knew he was gonna be a big-time arm, like a really big-time arm,” said Fryrear, Messick’s high school coach. “Not just a great high school, college pitcher, but I’m like, ‘Dude, this guy’s got a shot.’”

Messick said Bell’s warning added purpose to his workouts. He ran in the neighborhood. He changed his diet. He started doing all of the things a well-rounded pitcher did. Bell left in summer 2019 to become Pittsburgh’s head coach, but he kept hearing whispers about Messick’s strides and velocity increases. He wouldn’t witness what transpired from his challenge until the Panthers faced FSU and Messick last season.

But by the time Messick threw against Canada’s Ontario Blue Jays in October 2019 — his first fall opponent with Florida State and about 14 months after Bell’s call — his fastball had already climbed to 93.

“They realized that I took to heart what they had said,” Messick said.

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