Clayton Holmes threw six shutout innings on Saturday

Prospect Notebook: Clay Holmes Showing Steady Progression This Year

The West Virginia Power played a total of 12 games in Lakewood this year, so I got to see a little more of the team than usual. Early in the season, it was the power display by Stetson Allie and the pitching of Tyler Glasnow that impressed me the most. As the season went on, I noticed improvements each start from Clay Holmes and better hitting from Josh Bell, particularly in this last series for both of them. Yesterday I looked at the hitters at the level. Below I’ll give my thoughts on the pitchers that I saw, spending more time on the top prospects.

Clay Holmes Gets Better Each Time 

Clayton Holmes threw six shutout innings on Saturday

Clayton Holmes threw six shutout innings on Saturday

The only pitcher I saw make a start in each series was Clay Holmes. I actually never saw John Kuchno pitch, missing his spot in the rotation all three times. The other starters were Jason Creasy, Luis Heredia and Tyler Glasnow twice each, Kyle Haynes, Orlando Castro and Joely Rodriguez once. The reports on the last two can be found in the first recap, since nothing changed.

Since I saw Holmes three times and things changed a lot with him, I’ll start there. Holmes pitched a one-hit shutout over five innings in his first start, but he looked much better in the later games. In that first game, he didn’t hold his velocity all game and looked like he was aiming his pitches whenever the control was off. He was lacking confidence in his breaking balls.

In the second start, Holmes was throwing more strikes and while that led to more damage in the box score, it was a good sign over the first start when he walked five batters. He was much more effective with his breaking pitches in game two as well and wasn’t aiming the pitches, so there was a noticeable difference there.

Game three for Holmes was a very nice outing, the best control he has shown all season. In six innings, he gave up no runs and put up zero walks, the first game that he didn’t issue a free pass all season. He has good velocity, sitting 91-93 MPH all game, with a sharp curve that is 78-80 MPH and a decent mid-80’s change. The most important part was the fact he held that strong velocity all game, which is tough to do this late in a player’s first full season. He also kept the ball on the ground, getting ten groundball outs.

At times, Holmes was also able to crank it up to 94-95 MPH when he needed it during his first start. He’s a big kid, with excellent stuff, who obviously took some time to get used to full-season ball. Things have seemed to turn around for him now and some earlier issues seem to be resolved, so you hope he can carry that into Bradenton next year when he will be 21-years-old.

Glasnow and Heredia Lead Impressive Group of Starters

The two other big pitchers both impressed in their own way. Tyler Glasnow has two plus pitches and a change-up that needs work. He hit 97 MPH numerous times in his first start and was overpowering when he sat 95-96 MPH. What really helped him is his ability to control his big breaking curveball, which was in the high 70’s, creating a huge difference between his two pitches. His season has been great for his age and experience, shooting him towards the top of the Pirates prospects chart. Once he gets a little more control, which shouldn’t be a red flag with a 6’8″ teenager, and once he works more on his change-up to make it at least an average offering, the sky is the limit with him. He could definitely be someone who makes the same jump that Nick Kingham did this year, pitching a half season at Bradenton and then going to Altoona.

Luis Heredia is even younger than Glasnow, turning 19 this past Saturday. He isn’t as advanced, but still has huge upside. In Heredia’s first start, I liked some things I saw, such as how he handled giving up some soft hits, how quickly he worked and how he kept the ball down in the zone. His second start had the same improvement I saw with Holmes in his last game, his velocity was strong throughout the game. Heredia also mixes all three of his pitches well, something you don’t always see from younger pitchers, who go more fastball heavy early on and lack command of one of more of their off-speed pitches.

Another good sign from Heredia was that he looks to be in better shape, over both Spring Training when I saw him and a month ago in Lakewood. There was one thing I thought was bad about him and it seems to be in the process of being fixed. He finishes his pitches with his head down, something I thought was odd looking, but that is something he was working on during his bullpen on Saturday. The few times he did it in the bullpen, it was quickly pointed out by pitching coach Jeff Johnson. If you watch the video at the end here, you will notice his head go down after some pitches, while others it isn’t as extreme.

Jason Creasy and Kyle Haynes had similar starts and both were in the bullpen earlier in the season, so I’ll mention them together. Both pitchers did well throwing mainly fastballs with excellent control of the strike zone. Creasy actually did that in both starts I saw, but he had a rough time during his bullpen outing when he mixed his pitches more. Both have strong arms, hitting 94 MPH out of the pen during their relief appearances I saw and Haynes has been higher in the past. Creasy threw harder in the games, though he relied more on a two-seam fastball, which was in the high-80’s, while Haynes was 91-92 MPH his entire 6.2 inning performance. I liked the way both of them pitched, attacking the zone and getting quick outs. They both have good strong arms, just not sure how well it will play out at higher levels without mixing more breaking balls into their game.

Hard-Throwing Bullpen Arms

Last year, Ryan Hafner was a starter and didn’t fare so well when I saw him. His control was poor both times and the results were disappointing. This season, he has been moved to a multi-inning role in the bullpen and quietly put together a strong season. In 33 appearances, he has pitched 73 innings, posting a 2.96 ERA, 90 strikeouts, a 1.83 GO/AO ratio and a .204 BAA. He has also been tough on righties, holding them to a .142 average. The control has been the key for Hafner, who is the rare case of a pitcher not throwing harder with the move to the pen. He thew hard as a starter though, sitting 92-93, touching 94 MPH. Hafner registered those same numbers each time I saw him, but the thing is, he was making those pitchers with much better control and looked confident on the mound. He has made huge strides this season and looks like he could be a candidate to move back to starting in the future. The thing to remember with him, he is still 21-years-old, so he really isn’t behind where he should be at this point.

Two other pitchers I saw out of the pen looked good: Cesar Lopez and Jhondaniel Medina. With Lopez, it was just one inning, but he hit 93 MPH numerous times and there looked to be some good movement on his pitches. The initial reports when he signed for $600,000 were that he touched 94 MPH with his sinker, but reports over the last couple years had him throwing high 80’s and the results weren’t good. If he has regained that velocity and can be effective in a relief role, then there could be a chance that the Pirates eventually get something out of their large investment.

With Medina, I saw him pitch at least once each series and he hits 93-94 MPH consistently. He gets swing-and-misses often and just like Hafner, he has quietly had a strong season. He had five strikeouts in two innings over two appearances the last series. Medina is also still very young (turned 20 in February) and earlier in the year, looked decent during a short stint at Bradenton. He isn’t the typical 6’4″ or bigger pitcher that the Pirates seem to dream on recently. He is only 5’11”, but it is hard to argue with his numbers out of the bullpen. He has 50 strikeouts in 35 innings, has given up just one homer, gets ground balls and he is hard to hit with a .148 BAA.

I liked what I saw out of all three of these bullpen arms. Usually that isn’t the case in a low-A bullpen, you might get one or two guys that look interesting. When you consider that Haynes and Creasy were in that same pen to start the season, as well as Pat Ludwig, who moved up to a starting role in Bradenton, it is a pretty impressive group of arms for this level.

The thing I will take away from seeing West Virginia so many times this season is how good the pitching was in every game. I’ve seen the Pirates low-A teams come through Lakewood since 2002 and there are always some disappointing starts mixed in, but there wasn’t one start in the 12 games that was considered poor, nothing really close actually. Now Lakewood isn’t the best team this year, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact the Power pitchers kept their team in every single game. It’s a talented group, especially with the three high end guys at the top of the rotation.

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John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

Prospect Notebook: Can Josh Bell Be a Future Power Hitter in the Majors?

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Prospect Notebook: What Remaining Minor League Promotions Can We Expect?

  • Andrew Smalley

    Great write-up, John. Very informative and encouraging read, especially as it relates to the three young SPs.

    Well done.


    • John Dreker

      Thank you. It was a fun group to watch all season. The scouts I talked to were fairly impressed with them as a group. Joely Rodriguez got a lot of praise in particular and Orlando Castro was well liked too, so there are a lot of positives to take away from this WV staff

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