Jameson Taillon became the biggest profile Tommy John case for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014, but another top pitching prospect also underwent the procedure. Clay Holmes went down a few weeks before Taillon, undergoing the surgery in mid-March. Holmes doesn’t have the same skills as Taillon, but he is a promising pitching prospect to follow, rating this year as the 17th best prospect in the system.
Just like Taillon, Holmes has been getting back on the mound recently, getting ready to return during the 2015 season. Since his surgery came before Taillon’s, his rehab also started earlier. While Taillon threw his first bullpen session last week, Holmes had been throwing bullpens as early as December. He took a break, then started throwing bullpens again two weeks ago. A video of a bullpen session from last week can be found at the bottom of this post. Holmes has been throwing his fastball so far, but is to the point where he will start adding changeups and then curveballs in his bullpen sessions.
“The way my arm feels now, I feel 100 percent. I can’t say that I am 100 percent, but I feel 100 percent,” Holmes said on his rehab progress. “Mentally, now, I’ve kind of checked out of the rehab stage and I’m getting ready for the season like I would any other year.”
The 2014 season was going to be something to look forward to from Holmes. He was going to be making the jump to the Bradenton rotation, while hoping to build off a strong second half from West Virginia in 2013. He started the 2013 season with a 5.08 ERA and a 44:47 K/BB ratio in 67.1 innings. He finished the season with a 2.79 ERA in 51.2 innings, along with a 46:22 K/BB ratio. It was a similar path that Nick Kingham took in 2012 — a poor first half, followed by a quietly dominant second half and an increase in command. Kingham followed that up with a breakout season in Bradenton in 2013. There was hope that Holmes would do the same in 2014.
The only thing that has changed with that hope is the year. Holmes could still follow-up on his success in West Virginia, and emerge as one of the top pitching prospects in the system. He’s a tall pitcher who was hitting 94-95 MPH with his fastball in 2013, and has a curveball that is an out pitch when he is commanding it well. The biggest issue he had in the past was his control and command, although Tommy John surgery may have helped him.
“It’s probably been one of the best learning experiences for my career,” Holmes said about the injury. “You don’t have to worry about media, numbers, you don’t have to worry about any of that. It’s kind of just a good time to focus on my body, what I have to do, my throwing. As far as my body and throwing aspect, I think I’m probably at my best now than I have been my whole career.”
As to how the injury helped him build towards better control, Holmes said he now has a better feel for his body, which is one of the biggest challenges for tall pitchers at a young age.
“Things start coming together, you get a better idea of how your body works, how you do things,” Holmes said. “Just get comfortable with who you are, and kind of have a better idea of what you’re doing. All of that combined leads to, ultimately, better command.”
Holmes should be ready at some point in April, and possibly Opening Day. However, coming off Tommy John surgery could mean his innings will be limited and more controlled in 2015. The Pirates also seem to want to save innings for late in the season, rather than shutting down a pitcher early.
“That’s one thing they have told me, they don’t want that to happen,” Holmes said about the possibility of an early shut-down. “So if anything, it’s going to be my start is late so I can finish the year.”
Neal Huntington talked about the rehab process for Holmes and how it compares to Jameson Taillon’s rehab process, despite Holmes having zero shot at the majors this year.
“Ideally it should mirror Jameson’s,” Huntington said. “We want to be conservative with him because these are guys that we think have a chance to be really good Major League pitchers for many years down the road. We want to be conservative with them. We want to have them cross each hurdle as they can and should. We can make up innings in Arizona. We can make up innings in instructional league if the season runs out on us. So we’ve got alternatives, and we’ll do what we need to do to build their innings the right way.”
One challenge for Holmes is that he’s Rule 5 eligible at the end of the 2015 season. He is a lock to be protected, due to the fact that the Pirates paid him a ninth-round record $1.2 M in the 2011 draft. He has also lived up to early expectations, adding velocity since being drafted, and showing promise with the results. The Pirates have protected pitchers who haven’t seen Double-A ball yet, with the most recent example being Joely Rodriguez after the 2013 season. For that reason, don’t expect Holmes to be aggressively pushed just because of his pending Rule 5 eligibility. That said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Pirates took it slow with him during the 2015 season, then gave him additional innings during the off-season in the Fall Instructional League and possibly the Arizona Fall League.
Holmes is a guy who should make the majors in the future, and has the upside of a middle of the rotation starter who can handle 200 innings a year. To get there, he is going to have to continue his success from the second half of the West Virginia season in 2013, continue to improve his command, and show that he can return from Tommy John surgery as good or better than he was before the injury.