Once the Mets traded four prospects to obtain Johan Santana this past offseason, the team had more or less cleared out its farm system of attractive prospects, with one notable exception in Fernando Martinez.
So in this June’s draft, New York knew it had to take players that could make quick work of the minor leagues.
The Mets had three of the first 33 picks, and selected first baseman Ike Davis, shortstop Reese Havens, and pitcher Brad Holt. All three played in the Brooklyn Cyclones’ 5-4 loss Saturday night to the Staten Island Yankees. But so far, only Holt has displayed abilities that hint at a fast trip through the minor league system.
Davis has struggled with his offense—through Sunday, he had yet to homer in 95 professional at-bats. Havens, meanwhile, was struggling with an elbow injury that limited him to designated hitter duty. He then pulled his groin running out a ground ball on Saturday night, and is likely to miss some time, according to Brooklyn manager Edgar Alfonzo.
Holt, who, despite a 95 m.p.h. fastball, slipped to the 33rd pick in the draft over questions about his off-speed pitches, has been nothing short of brilliant in his first professional season. And in the best news of all for New York, he isn’t doing it by just overpowering hitters with his fastball. His slider and changeup should allow a healthy Holt to move quickly through the system, drawing comparisons to current Met starter Mike Pelfrey along the way. The difference is, it took Pelfrey the better part of three years to develop his slider and changeup—for Holt’s changeup, it took two starts.
Holt dominated Saturday night, allowing four hits and one earned run in 5 1/3 innings, walking two and striking out seven. More impressively, once Holt began mixing his pitches after the second inning, he retired 12 of the final 13 batters, six of them on strikeouts.
“They’re coming along real nice,” Holt said between bites of a chicken tender in the tiny visitor’s locker room following the game. “My changeup stayed down all night. I left the slider up a couple of times, but sliders sometimes do that. But I was real happy with the changeup—it’s the second start I’m throwing it.”
Holt did throw a show-me changeup in college, but he said it had no downward movement—essentially, it was occasion to change speeds on the hitters, but he had no cause to throw it very often. When a pitcher throws 95 MPH fastballs, most college hitters don’t have a chance.
Not so at the professional level, even in the New York-Penn League, which is considered a step below A-ball. Holt got the first batter on a line out to left. The second hitter homered. A line out, a hard single to center, and another line out followed. He’d faced five batters, and all five had hit the ball hard, with Holt throwing mostly fastballs.
He adjusted his focus in the second inning, but had a tendency to repeat his pitches, throwing three fastballs in a row, three changeups in a row, and three sliders in a row during the inning.
But after loading the bases with one out on a single and a pair of walks, Holt got it right. He started the next hitter with a 92 MPH fastball, that missed. A nasty slider induced a swing and a miss to even the count. Then, a 93 MPH fastball was fouled away. A changeup just missed (but froze the batter), evening the count at 2-2. Another terrific slider had the hitter flailing. Two out.
The next hitter got more of Holt mixing. A changeup on the outside corner for a called strike, followed by a slider that the hitter laid off of to get to 1-1. The next change just missed, but the fastball that followed had the hitter way behind it, barely fouling it off to get the count to 2-2. One fastball later, Holt threw another beautiful change. The hitter swung way too soon, and Holt was out of the inning.
Over the next 3 1/3 innings, Holt’s three pitches were all on display, and got hitters to swing and miss at all of them. His fastball velocity actually improved as the game went on, with a high reading of 96 MPH. By the time he reached his pitch limit in the sixth inning, he had improved his season line to 37 strikeouts against 12 walks in 28 1/3 professional innings—good for an ERA of 1.91. And in the two starts Holt has used his new changeup, he has a K/BB rate of 17/4 in 12 1/3 innings, and an ERA of 0.73.
“His fastball just exploded tonight,” Brooklyn manager Edgar Alfonzo said after the game. “It’s too early to say he looks like Pelfrey, but with the pitches he has, that fastball at 94, 95, when he figures it out, he can pitch in the big leagues. He has a high ceiling.”
Holt seemed surprised that Pelfrey, and countless other pitchers, have had trouble throwing an effective changeup.
“I don’t have any problem locating it,” Holt, who expressed similar confidence with his slider, said. “I just need to gain a little confidence with it, and when to throw it. It opens up the doors for my other pitches.”
Mixed correctly, it should open doors for Holt as well.