Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 Top Prospects: #12 – Clay Holmes

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To recap the countdown so far:

20. Michael De La Cruz, OF
19. JaCoby Jones, OF
18. Barrett Barnes, OF
17. Cody Dickson, LHP
16. Blake Taylor, LHP
15. Joely Rodriguez, LHP
14. Andrew Lambo, OF
13. Stolmy Pimentel, RHP

We continue the countdown with the number 12 prospect, Clay Holmes.

Holmes had a rough start to the season, but quietly finished strong. (Photo Credit: Robin Black)

Holmes had a rough start to the season, but quietly finished strong. (Photo Credit: Robin Black)

12. Clay Holmes, RHP

A quick glance at the numbers from Holmes in 2013 would suggest he didn’t have a great season. Taking a closer look at the season shows that he made improvements to his game throughout the year, and quietly ended up with a dominant season after some struggles in the first two months. Holmes had a 6.08 ERA in his first 40 innings, walking 30 batters and striking out 27 during that time. For the remainder of the season he had a 3.01 ERA in 80.2 innings, with just 39 walks and 63 strikeouts. The K/BB ratio got stronger as the season went on, with the walks going down and the strikeouts increasing.

The season by Holmes is very similar to the season Nick Kingham had in West Virginia in 2012. A slow start hid some strong numbers in the final months of the season, and disguised the fact that Holmes improved his stuff throughout the year. Prior to the season he was sitting 90-93 MPH with his fastball, occasionally touching higher. He was able to get his fastball up to 94-95 MPH throughout the 2013 season, and did a better job holding his velocity deeper in starts as the year went on.

Holmes pairs his fastball with a sharp curveball that sits in the upper 70s, and a mid-80s changeup. His curveball lacked consistency at times, and when it was off it looked like he was trying to aim the pitch. When the curveball is working, it is an out pitch, but the sharp break can also generate ground balls. Holmes did a great job generating grounders this season, getting them at a 58% rate. That was in part due to the curve, but also due to the downward plane on a fastball being thrown by a 6’ 5” pitcher.

The Pirates usually keep prep pitchers in West Virginia for a full year, then allow them to move at their own pace once they reach Bradenton. That could be the case for Holmes in 2014, starting in Bradenton and eventually having the chance to finish in Altoona. He still has some control issues to work on, and he will need to develop his changeup more at the higher level. In the future Holmes profiles as a strong number three starter who has the frame that could allow him to pitch 200 innings per year. The earliest he could arrive in the majors could be in mid-season 2016.

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Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • scbucsfan

    The pirates farm system is just loaded with mid 90′s fastball pitchers. Is this a trend league wide or is this a result of picking so many big framed prep pitchers.

    • RonLoreski

      Seems like a league trend to me. If you can’t throw mid-upper 90′s, you better be a LHP or have a dominant sinker.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

        Ron….as far as I know, Cole is the only one who throws ‘mid to upper 90s’ on our staff and we seem to do quite well.

        A ‘flameball’ is nice, but without command, it is useless.

        • RonLoreski

          Liriano LHP, Locke LHP, Wandy LHP, Morton dominating sinker. I rest my case.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      ssc……….as Tim has written many times, we seemed to concentrate on projectable pitchers. As for league-wide, just from looking at my handy dandy BA prospect book, we seem to have more than our fair share.

      But pitchers do seem to be throwing harder on average, but I have no feasible stats to back that up. I have no idea how many there were back in the 90s, for example.

      I DO know Littlefield sure didn’t seem to know how to draft them….lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    So, Tim…we’re looking at the ‘next’ Kingham if he gets the command down?

  • esd4

    Wow. I did not see this coming. I am much more sour on Holmes than you guys are. I admit I’m probably a bit more pessimistic than I should be, but weird mechanics and no changeup scream reliever to me. Add in the control problems and that’s a pretty run-of-the-mill prospect, even if he does throw mid-90s with a promising breaking ball. Statistically, even if you throw out the first two months, 6.5 Ks and 4.5 BB per 9 are nowhere close to “dominant.” The system is full of big guys who throw hard and have good breaking balls. Would Bryan Morris be the #11 prospect if he were still eligible?

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      weird mechanics? Every video I’ve seen, he looks awful smooth.

      • esd4

        I agree that his mechanics are smooth. But I’m saying that they’re literally weird. You just don’t see a lot of guys throwing like that, and it’s for a reason. Standing to the extreme side of the rubber makes throwing strikes tougher and leaves you vulnerable to opposite-handed hitters. Straightening the front leg on the stride makes you stiff, making it harder to control your pitches and often causing you to leave balls up in the zone. Showing your release point so clearly gives the hitter too much information too early.

        His mechanics are similar to Justin Wilson’s, except from the right side and worse in every way. He has the same basic motion as Wilson, except he stands so far to the third-base side of the rubber and he is very slow through his release point and he stays a lot taller. Given how big a role Wilson’s mechanics and attendant command issues played in him becoming a middle reliever rather than a mid-rotation starter, that should be a huge red flag.

  • piraterican21

    Esd Im with you, this is one of the pitching prospects that wouldn’t mind trading for someone like Smoak, Moreland

  • John Eshleman

    I personally don’t knock Holmes too much for the state of his change-up. He’s only 20 with one year of full-season ball under his belt. Keeping in mind that he didn’t throw a change in HS (like many prep power arms), I expect it will be an emphasis in the coming campaign and those to follow. I’m not a big intangibles guy, but Holmes is a bright kid who I project to excel in the cerebral aspects of his craft as he transitions away from being “just a thrower” to a pitcher. I agree with Tim that a #3 SP is a good projection if the change and command continue to improve.

    • esd4

      I’m sure the Pirates will emphasize the change until Holmes proves beyond a doubt that he can’t throw one, but one can’t simply assume that a pitcher will develop a decent one if he works at it. Some pitchers just can’t do it, and they become relievers. We’ve got a bunch of guys like that in the system: Morris, Wilson, Welker, etc. Another similarity between all those guys is that they have control/command issues. Holmes falls in that same category.

      I agree that Holmes could be a #3 if he improves his weaknesses, but you could say that about any number of pitchers in the system. If you’re optimistic about him being able to improve, he fits ahead of guys like Billy Roth and Jon Sandfort who have the same weaknesses but are a couple years behind Holmes, but I don’t see how he can rank ahead of, for instance, Pimentel, who has similar question marks but to a lesser degree and is MLB-ready, more or less. And I don’t see how he can rank ahead of guys like Joely and Dickson, who are similarly advanced and also have rounder repertoires and lesser command issues.

      Personally, I’m pessimistic about Holmes being able to improve his command, given his delivery, and I’m always skeptical about guys without a changeup, unless they have premium 1-2 pitches. If you look at Holmes strengths (size, velo, promising breaking ball) and weaknesses (command, mechanics, inconsistent breaking ball, no third pitch), they’re identical to his strengths and weaknesses coming out of the draft. His lack of any significant improvement in a year and a half of pro ball is foreboding.

      I also think there are some pitcher-rather-than-thrower things that are going to work against Holmes, like how clearly he shows his release point in his delivery and how his tall-and-fall mechanics with the straight landing leg are going to force him to work up in the zone a lot.

      It’s very possible that my pessimism is unfair. You can’t teach six feet and five inches or 95 mph, so Holmes is already somewhat ahead of the game in that respect. I was just kind of shocked to see a guy who seems obviously a future middle reliever ranked so highly.

      • esd4

        Sorry, there should be a “to me” in that last sentence. Clearly it’s only my opinion that he’s a reliever. I didn’t mean to imply that it should be objective.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jesse.davis.925 Jesse Davis

        Morris, Wilson, and Welker are all specifically different cases. Morris was a case of health, Wilson was a case of command/control, and Welker is/was just a case of his stuff playing up better in shorter bursts.

        Betting a guy will fail is the safest bet you can make in baseball. To me Holmes seems like a work in progress like any number of young pitchers. But even the ones who fail to be starters and wind up as cost controlled relievers become a valuable asset.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD

    I wonder if there is just an over-infatuation and emphasis placed on velocity? Every scout has a radar gun, and in every major and minor league park you can monitor the velocity of every pitch thrown. Don’t get me wrong, I am quite sure a 98 mph fastball is a lot harder to hit than an 88 mph fastball – all other factors being equal. But, is that overly emphasized and stressed – over control and bottom line numbers and results?

    Did pitchers back in the 70s and 80s throw as hard, but we just didn’t realize it as much then without the technology of today?

    If a guy like Gregg Maddux was a 20 year old pitcher in the Pirates organization, pitching for WV lets say, would anyone think he was a great prospect?

    I know in the NFL, there is such an emphasis placed on 40 times, etc, that guys who are just good football players (but not work out freaks) get overlooked.