(Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pirates Hoping to Fix the Control of a Hard Throwing Right-Handed Relief Prospect

John Holdzkom is making the most of his first opportunity above High-A this season. Much of the success that he has seen this season is due to a lively fastball and some new-found control.

After beginning the season with Amarillo in the Independent Leagues, Holdzkom arrived with a bang with the Pirates organization, signing as a minor league free agent at the end of June. In six innings with Altoona, he allowed just one hit and he struck out ten, while walking two before earning a promotion. In a pair of appearances with Indianapolis, Holdzkom has not seen any drop off. He has worked four innings, striking out three and allowing just one walk and a hit.

“It feels good,” Holdzkom said. “I am not trying to change too much physically or mentally. I am just trying to go out there and hit a spot.”

Hitting those spots have been a main issue for Holdzkom up until this season. In 2013, Holdzkom walked 36 hitters in 43.2 innings with two different Independent League squads. However, strikeouts have never been an issue, as he fanned 52 hitters in that span last season, posting an ERA of 2.89.

However, this was not where the baseball journey started for the 6-foot-7 righty. Holdzkom credits this baseball journey with aiding him in working out some of the control demons that have haunted his entire career.

“I have battled a lot of control and health issues from 2008 to 2012,” Holdzkom said. “There was a lot of time spent in extended and I went and played in Australia the last two winters. That helped me get a lot of repetitions and get more comfortable on the mound. I was playing Indy ball in Texas, South Dakota, and Iowa the last year and a half. The more repetitions that I got, the more comfortable that I got.”

With these repetitions, Holdzkom was able to work on a game plan and getting mechanically sound. Getting the opportunity to work out the kinks and get his long body repeating the delivery is something that he has taken into 2014.

In his last season playing affiliated ball, Holdzkom was with High-A Bakersfield for Cincinnati in 2012. He walked 13 hitters in 8.2 innings. Prior to this, he was a fourth round pick by the Mets in 2004, and struck out 100 hitters in 2008 between Rookie league and Low-A in that organization. However, he also walked 57 hitters in 83.2 innings. The 2008 season also brought an elbow injury and ultimately Tommy John surgery.

“I was out close to 21 months,” Holdzkom said. “I had to deal with feeling so naked on the mound when I got back out there because it is such a long layoff.”

Holdzkom works with a fastball and splitter primarily. His fastball certainly has some life and sits between 93 and 95. It’s a pitch that has previously hit 101 MPH in his career, prior to his injuries. The splitter is between 85 and 86. In addition, he is working on establishing a curveball as a third pitch to throw hitters off the heater more.

“On a good day, my fastball has a little cut to it,” Holdzkom said. “I can just rely on that pretty much. I throw the splitter whenever the catcher calls it. I try not to think too much out there. I have been working on a curveball that I like to mix in here and there. At the higher levels, you really need a third pitch. I have thrown it off and on my whole [career]. It was just inconsistent.”

Holdzkom said that the progress with the curveball has been fine and he is “just waiting for the right time to bust it out.” He admitted that he throws about 90 percent fastballs, so working in a second off pitch would be a nice opportunity to change the look for hitters.

Holdzkom said that his only goal the rest of the season is to be ready to throw strikes when the manager calls his name, regardless of the level he is at.

The fastball that Holdzkom offers certainly catches eye after two appearances in Indianapolis. The recent history, plus the quality stuff quickly brings another Indianapolis reliever to mind in Andy Oliver. Oliver has been working with Pirates’ minor league coaches on ironing out his control, and it has led to a 3.3 BB/9 since the start of June. The same work for Holdzkom could create similar success to Oliver. Despite the lengthy journey, Holdzkom is only 26 and could have some quality seasons left in his arm. If the control issues stay in check, he has the stuff to potentially compete for a bullpen spot one day, especially if the curveball progresses.

Enjoy this story? Pirates Prospects will be switching to a subscription site on 4/13, so that we can continue bringing you the best Pirates coverage there is. For a very small monthly price, you can continue getting articles like this, along with coverage from every minor league city. Get more information here, and subscribe today!

Share This Article

Ryan Palencer

Ryan joined Pirates Prospects as the Indianapolis Triple-A writer in 2014. Prior to joining Pirates Prospects, Ryan covered high school, college and professional sports in the Indianapolis area. For more updates throughout the season, follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpalencer.

First Pitch: The Unfortunate Landscape of Professional Sports

Next Story »

Pirates Sign Left-Handed Pitcher Rafael Perez to Minor League Deal

  • leadoff

    The Pirates certainly have a pen that could use some help.

  • rip55

    the 40 is gonna be crowded

  • Monsoon Harvard

    Doesn’t seem like he’s had any control problems so far. From the box scores I’ve seen, he’s thrown nothing but scoreless innings and gotten strikeouts against no walks.

Latest Analysis

  • Keller Supak Hinsz

    Even With the New Draft Rules, the Pirates Are Still Loading Up on Projectable Pitchers

    1 day ago

    From 2008-2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates spent a lot of resources on projectable pitchers out of high school. So far, this approach has led to breakout performances from ...

    Read More
  • Josh Bell made the move to first base over the off-season. (Photo credit: David Hague)

    Why Should You Care About Prospects?

    3 days ago

    Yesterday I had a shorter day than usual. The Pirates had cuts at the MLB level, and a road game. The day was shortened at Pirate City, ...

    Read More
  • Gregory Polanco

    Q&A: Trading Prospects For Rentals, Polanco Concerns, Meadows vs Appel

    4 days ago

    I missed the Q&A last week due to a common problem in Spring Training: I forgot what day it was. It was around 6:00 that I was ...

    Read More
  • Nick Kingham f

    Improving His Two-Seam Fastball will Make Nick Kingham a More Effective Pitcher

    5 days ago

    With Jameson Taillon returning from Tommy John surgery, and unlikely to make an impact at the Major League level early in the year, the top prospect to ...

    Read More
  • Arquimedes Caminero 3

    The Roster Situations That Could Impact the Makeup of the Pirates Bullpen

    7 days ago

    There are less than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, and the one area where the Pittsburgh Pirates had actual position battles is heating up. There were ...

    Read More
  • Jordan Luplow

    How the Pirates are Trying to Stay Ahead of the Curve With the New Draft Rules

    1 week ago

    The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement brought a lot of changes to Major League Baseball. The biggest change for the Pittsburgh Pirates came in the draft. From 2008-2011, ...

    Read More
  • Alen Hanson

    The Key For Alen Hanson to Help the Pirates in the Majors This Year

    1 week ago

    When the Pittsburgh Pirates moved Alen Hanson to second base last year, part of the plan was to get him to the majors faster by putting him at ...

    Read More
  • Tyler Glasnow 2

    What the Stats Don’t Tell You About Tyler Glasnow

    1 week ago

    The stat line for Tyler Glasnow’s start at Pirate City yesterday looked great: 3 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K. The lone run ...

    Read More
  • JaCoby Jones Josh Bell

    JaCoby Jones Did Fine in the Move to Shortstop, But Needs to Cut Down on Strikeouts

    2 weeks ago

    The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted JaCoby Jones as an outfielder in the third round of the 2013 draft, then surprised everyone the following year when they moved him ...

    Read More
  • Cody Dickson is a lefty with the upside of a middle of the rotation starter. (Photo Credit: Mark Olson)

    The Mental Adjustment that Led to Cody Dickson’s Dominant 2014 Second Half

    2 weeks ago

    Trusting his stuff and not trying to do too much — that has been the key for left-handed pitcher Cody Dickson so far in his professional baseball ...

    Read More
  • Browse More Articles