Phillies 'surprise' Justin Parr

CHILLICOTHE — The MLB amateur draft had entered the eighth round Friday afternoon when Justin Parr’s cellphone rang.

On the other end was a pro scout who had some news he was sure the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year would be eager to hear.

The scout said his team planned to select Parr in the next round.

As it turned out, the Illinois senior center fielder didn’t have to wait that long. A rival franchise beat them to the punch.

“Later on in the eighth (round), all the sudden it popped up on the (computer) screen: Philadelphia Phillies,” Parr said.

With that, the Louisville Slugger first-team All-American became the highest Illini draft pick since 2009, when infielder Brandon Wikoff was chosen in the fifth round by the Houston Astros.

“It was one of those things that came by surprise and it came quick, and I was really fortunate,” said Parr, the 241st overall selection.

If the swift turn of events during the eighth round took Parr off guard, the identity of the team that chose him was an even bigger surprise. In the weeks leading up to the draft, other teams seemingly were more interested.

In fact, when Parr received a text message from a scout earlier Friday, he was puzzled by the fact that it came from an unfamiliar number. After answering the scout’s questions, Parr asked which organization he represented.

“And they didn’t respond,” Parr said.

He would later learn the texter was Phillies Midwest area scout — and former Illini pitcher — David Seifert.

“It wasn’t really one of the teams that I thought was on me, but that’s kind of how things work out,” Parr said. “And (Seifert) said that’s how they are. They’re kind of a quiet organization. They don’t try to overcommit to a player (before the draft). They just kind of lay low and then draft the guys they think can play.”

Parr gave the Phillies reason to think just that by producing one of the best offensive seasons in UI baseball history this spring. The left-handed hitter ranked among the national leaders with a .398 batting average, drove in 53 runs — the most by an Illini since 2009 — and set a school record with a 33-game hitting streak that was the longest in the nation for a time.

Parr also excelled defensively in his first season as an Illini center fielder, not committing an error in 137 fielding chances and throwing out three runners.

Excelled on the bases, too, recording 16 steals in 19 attempts.

This was a different Parr than the one who last season hit .290 and was, to his disappointment, bypassed in the draft.

“Last year I was hoping to do the same thing (be drafted), but that didn’t happen,” he said. “I feel like I put myself in a lot better position for the draft this year. Went out, had a good year, and some things fell in the right place, and I ended up being able to go in the top 10 (rounds), which is what I wanted.”

Parr noted the role that the Illini coaching staff played in his development after he had gone undrafted out of high school and again after one junior college season at Parkland College in Champaign.

“They’ve put in a lot of time with me both in the infield and the outfield, and especially with my swing,” Parr said. “I’ve got to give the coaching staff a lot of credit for helping me improve on things like bunting and running, especially from using my athleticism. I really didn’t capitalize on that in high school or when I was in junior college. Really, I just relied on my hitting.

“The things I’ve really improved on I feel like put me in a better position for the draft. So hats off to that coaching job. They’ve done an amazing job turning me ... into a guy who was drafted in the eighth round.”

Parr’s attention to the draft didn’t end Friday. His twin brother, Illini left fielder Jordan Parr, is a draft-eligible redshirt junior who is hoping to see his name pop up on the MLB draft website, too, today, as the three-day draft concludes. If so, that could give the Parr family three members in pro ball this summer. Older brother Josh is an Arizona Diamondbacks minor leaguer.

“Hopefully (Jordan) goes early (this) morning in that 11-15 (round) range. That would be awesome,” Justin said. “I don’t think he’ll be drafted by the Phillies, but hopefully we can both be in pro ball after this year and get to share that experience with both my brothers now.”

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