J.C. Holt Interview
SHANKS: So how has spring training gone for you so far?
HOLT: I don't think I've had a better spring as far as being comfortable where I'm at. I've finally gotten to where I'm very, very confident in how I'm playing second base and actually gotten to where I'm confident in my swing. This is the first spring training where I came in knowing what I have to do and not feeling around trying to get comfortable in certain situations. So it's the first spring training where everything has come together for me.
SHANKS: And you know that the goal has to be to have a complete season, from start to finish.
HOLT: Exactly. I think the first season was a big change. It's taken me two years. In college I had a real open stance. It took me two years to go from an open stance to a closed stance and get comfortable in that situation, how I need to swing the bat. And also to just find out the kind of hitter the Braves want me to be, and what kind of leadoff guy they want me to be. It's just taken me a while to get comfortable, and now that I've gotten comfortable last year I had a bad first half and then a good second half like I did in Rome. I'd like to think that I did put it together through the second half and then the Fall League. So I put it together for six good months, and I think I just need to continue to build off that. That's what I believe I've done since I've been here.
SHANKS: How much has the learning process at second base affected you at the plate?
HOLT: Well I think it may have. At times you sit out there, and everybody in the Braves' organization wants you to succeed and wants you to be the best you can be. There would be times when I was here I would leave the game and instead of working on my hitting I'd head to the mini-field and work on turning double plays and things like that since I played centerfield in college. I had kind of forgotten what to do around second base and I had to get re-taught as to what to do to get there at the big league level. Anybody who has come from the outfield to the infield has a newfound respect for it. Now that my defense is solid, my range is where it needs to be, the only thing I need to go out now is play ball.
SHANKS: You talked about learning what type of hitter the Braves want you to be. What exactly is that?
HOLT: Well more of a leadoff-type guy. At LSU we were all driving runs in, stealing a lot of bases. Here I need to play more within 90 feet. With wooden bats, letting my hands do the work, hitting the ball the other way, and not trying to muscle up so much. When I got here I was trying to muscle up and drive some balls instead of staying inside ball learning that if I hit the ball in the six hole no one is going to throw me out. Getting that through my head took a while, but now that I've figured it out that hey if I go that way I can hit with anybody. So that's the big thing that they've been trying to preach to me for two years and I've been trying, but when it came to game time I would rush and not stay within myself and let me hands do my work. That's the big thing I've learned. It's taken me half a season to learn it, but then last year me and Stubby (Franklin Stubbs) started working in the cage and I started putting it together and then went to the Fall League and it just kept on going.
SHANKS: What did going to the Arizona Fall League do for you?
HOLT: I enjoyed it. One thing it does do is you don't play everyday. I was on the taxi squad like the first week and a half. That's why I was six plate appearances shy of qualifying for the batting title. We had a great hitting team. But one thing I did learn is when I didn't play watching guys that had similar games to mine and how they go about their game plan, how they take pitches, watching how the pitcher pitches them, and things like that. If you just get out there and watch, since it's a real high level of play, you can learn. I don't know what the percentage of people that go to the Fall League, but the majority of them end up in the big leagues. There's a lot of good talent out there. But it's awesome just watching how guys go about their business and how they do it everyday. You just learn a lot from them. I learned as much from watching as I did from playing. I enjoyed. It's fun. The competition is good. Every pitcher they run out there is some team's best prospect. It was awesome. I enjoyed it. You faced great pitching every single day. I learned more than anything, with guys throwing hard, you really have to trust your hands. Once I realized that, I took off. It was just a huge learning experience for you.
SHANKS: How much does it help to know that there are not that many ‘true' leadoff guys in this organization?
HOLT: I think about it all the time, and they tell me. And I think it says something that they really haven't gone out and gotten a true leadoff guy since (Rafael) Furcal left. I got to play against Lillibridge last year.
SHANKS: What's going to happen? Are you going to leadoff or will he?
HOLT: I don't know. I think that they'll flip-flop us. That's fine with me as long as I get my at bats. I played against him last year. We both like to steal bases, so if I hit behind him I'm going to give him a chance to take the bag. We should feed off each other. I'm looking forward to it.
SHANKS: And you've got to feel now that this is getting serious getting to AA.
HOLT: You're just closer. When you're in A ball you feel like your years away from being up there, but now you're much closer to where you need to be. It's been a great ride so far. I've enjoyed it – lots of learning experiences. And I just think the struggles help you. It's made me mature a lot and now when I go through a slump it doesn't bother as much as it did before. I'm glad I'm dealing with it now as opposed to there so whenever I get there I won't have struggles. The big thing is when you get there you want to stay there. I think struggling, being able to handle it, and getting through it faster will help me when I get there.
SHANKS: Is it better to think about having to be consistent this year or is it better just to believe you've got to continue doing what you did late last season and in Arizona?
HOLT: Yeah exactly. I'm not worried about being consistent. If I do what I do and keep within myself and keep doing what I've been doing my consistency is going to be there. If I struggle, I struggle. I don't want to put too much pressure on myself. If I get off to a poor start, I've always been a strong finisher and I know that. It was like that in college too. If you start out strong, I think you'll finish strong.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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