Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Kenny Holmberg

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Between outfielder Jairo Beras, lefty Yohander Mendez, and others, the Texas Rangers have a strong group of prospects at extended spring training this season. Lone Star Dugout sat down with Surprise Rangers skipper Kenny Holmberg to discuss the players' progress.

Surprise Rangers manager Kenny Holmberg is entering his first season as a skipper in the States. The son of longtime Blue Jays minor-league manager Dennis Holmberg, Kenny played four seasons (2005-2008) in the Milwaukee Brewers organization before joining the coaching ranks. He served as Dominican Summer League Rangers manager in 2010 and 2011 before joining the High-A Myrtle Beach coaching staff last season.

Jason Cole: I want to start out by talking about outfielder Jairo Beras. He obviously has a ton of raw power out of his massive 6-foot-6 frame, but he also struggled in game action this spring. How has he progressed since camp?

Kenny Holmberg: He's a kid that is going to continue to go forward and learn. Baseball is going to teach all these kids a lot of things. It's a routine. He has gotten a lot better at his routine. His swing has improved. The game is going to continue to teach him situations defensively and on the bases. He's going to have a good experience this summer, wherever he may play.

Cole: When Beras is eligible to play in official games at the beginning of July, is it safe to say that he'll be at one of the two short-season levels?

Holmberg: I think that's a safe thing to say––especially being new in the sense of playing in the United States for the first time. We want to let him enjoy the process, and letting him get at-bats at a short-season level would make sense.

But you never know. He's a kid that can explode on to the scene once things start to click because he's that talented. But he's going to definitely have to hone some skills and learn some things about the game along the way, for sure.

Cole: How has his swing improved since you got him here?

Holmberg: You let him do his thing. It's the kid we signed. It's the kid that everybody saw down in the Dominican and fell in love with. That's who he is. There haven't been many mechanical changes, if any.

We've allowed him to be a little more aggressive and try and get the pitch selection a little bit better, which is no different from any young hitter from Australia to Canada to the Dominican to California. You just want to get these guys kind of locked in to their zone. And when he does that, he hits balls hard and with authority.

Cole: For a lot of guys who are young and have those big gangly bodies like Beras does at 6-foot-6, they can be a little awkward physically and athletically before eventually growing into their body. We've seen that with Ronald Guzman over the last year. Are you starting to see that type of physical maturation from Beras?

Holmberg: It's tough for me to see and say because I see him every day. It's fun when guys come into town and have not been here for, say, two to three weeks or even two to three months. And they're the ones who see the difference more so than I.

I mean, there is a definite increase in speed and strength and body maturity because of the things we put these kids through. That's not only Jairo, but he's part of the group––he's part of the extended camp that gets that. So, yeah, for sure.

Cole: Yohander Mendez pitched yesterday against the Reds. What are your impressions on how he has thrown so far at extended spring?

Holmberg: Good. He has got the fastball and changeup. The ability to pitch in is going to help him, and throwing the curveball and trusting it is going to help him. He's a kid that does intangible things––holding runners and fielding his position. He's got charisma and a good smile. He's in a good place now, and he'll put himself on the map shortly.

Cole: Mendez is another guy who's starting to get stronger in that tall frame. Are you starting to see him maintain the fastball velocity a little better than he would have in the past?

Holmberg: Yeah. I think with the things he has done and the way he has challenged himself and responded to the challenges of the strength and conditioning side, he is going to be able to not only maintain but improve. Going back to the question––with the way that he has put himself in the weight room and the conditioning prove, he will not only maintain but continue to get bigger and stronger, throw harder, command offspeed, have sharper breaking balls, and stuff like that.

Cole: You mentioned pitching inside. That's something that a lot of young pitchers don't want to do. They like to work away because it's comfortable to them. For you, how much of an emphasis is getting these guys to pitch inside down here?

Holmberg: I personally believe any pitcher at this level needs to command two pitches––fastball inside and fastball away. From there, if they command a secondary pitch, it's great. But in order to get out of this level, in my opinion, they have to be able to command fastballs in and fastballs away. I don't want to give hitters at this level too much credit. But pitchers, if they can do that, they're going to have success at this level.

At the next level, we'll see. You improve the secondary and the curveball comes along, then maybe we can get to A ball. And now we're throwing the changeup and we're commanding it behind in the count. Then we can get to Double-A. And then you're commanding four pitches before you know it, and two of them are fastballs, and that guy is excelling in the big leagues.

I think the process for Mendez right now is continue to learn how to pitch inside, continue to command the fastball away, and the changeup is good. The curveball is going to come along and he's going to be good.

Cole: Australian outfielder Todd McDonald is kind of a unique player with the patient approach and overall style of play. He'll step into the box and, for the most part, stand there. He doesn't take practice swings. Can you describe his game and the style?

Holmberg: He's just a quiet competitor. I can go back––I'm not trying to compare him to Shawn Green by any means, but Shawn Green was very quiet in the way he went about his business, his approach at the plate, and the way he played the outfield. By no means am I comparing him to Shawn Green. But I think if you're asking if I've ever seen anybody like that, I think Shawn Green was like that. Very quiet and didn't say much, but just a silent competitor.

Todd learns. He pays attention. He has got a good attention span, and he knows how to compete. He is a nice piece to the puzzle for the organization.

Cole: McDonald made a couple nice plays in center field last night, and he showed a lot of range to grab a ball in the gap the day before in left. What are your thoughts on how his outfield defense is progressing?

Holmberg: Readiness. Getting ready to go left and right pre-pitch, especially playing center field, he's going to have to go get balls like he did last night and make those plays. He's going to have to go to balls glove side and make those plays. He shows it, so he's capable of doing it. He has got some speed to burn. There is arm strength in there.

Again, it's just getting his feet on the ground. It's his first time in the United States playing at this level, and it's not easy for anybody, especially a kid from Australia. He has accepted it and done a good job.

Cole: McDonald showed a very patient approach in spring training, and he may have been even a little bit too passive at times. How do you manage a guy like that, since they're rare for his age? Do you try and get him be more aggressive, or do you let him do his own thing?

Holmberg: I think you let him be––you let him hit. You see what he's capable of doing. In my opinion, it'd be a shame if you went in there and changed a kid who can do something that most kids can't at his age.

So let him be. Let him be a player, and let him be a competitor. Let him do his thing, and he has helped our club win games. He has helped himself get better. There's no real reason to go in there and change many things, no.

Cole: Ronald Guzman is coming back from knee surgery. What are your impressions on how he has looked in games out here?

Holmberg: Just the way he looks––his presence and his physical attributes––if I was a common person, I would assume that he was a major-league rehabber. Then you watch him swing the bat, and you could say, ‘Definitely, what's this guy doing here?' But what he's doing here is getting his knee in shape, getting prepared to go to wherever it may be, and help that club with his bat and with everything he can do as a ballplayer.

Ronald has put on good size and strength. He's prepared, and he has been a professional. I've been impressed with the way Ronald has gone about his business.

Cole: Yeah, how impressive is Guzman's batting practice these days compared to when he signed? He hit three consecutive balls over the batters eye in center field a few days ago.

Holmberg: I'll even say further––his at-bats in games with the lack of at-bats in games coming in. Early on, it was ‘whack' and double down the line, ‘whack' and three-run home run. Yeah, the BP has been great. He stays through the middle of the field. When he stays back, controls his head, and gets the bat out in front, he does damage. It's special.

Cole: I asked Ronald about this the other day. But a guy like him who has long arms––not just him––but how does any young hitter with those long arms keep from getting naturally long in their swing? How do they stay short to the ball?

Holmberg: The drills he does in the cage with all the guys––Donzell McDonald, Jayce Tingler, Harry Spilman, and everybody involved. Again, not to compare him to anybody, but Shawn Green was the same way. It's funny that in two questions, the same guy kind of pops up.

But just using the whole field. Being able to hit the ball where it's pitched and not getting tied up inside. He's short and quick to the inside pitch. He knows how to hit. He knows how to handle the strike zone, and he has got some power. He's got some pop, and he has got some ability to hit––he's a threat.

Cole: Eduard Pinto has been hurt for much of extended spring, first with a finger infection and how with a hamstring tweak.

Holmberg: The infection to the finger, which was a process to get through that. That's just an unlucky kind of circumstance. And then coming back and getting into game speed––being able to go from rehabbing to playing––that's just a young kid trying to go out there and prove that he can play. I think we've talked to him, and we have let him know that it's going to be a process once you get ready.

We're going to get you back in there, and you have to understand that you've got to be ready to go. You have to stretch. You have to take care of your body. You have got to be able to go game speed if you're capable of going that speed.

He's fine. He's a good ballplayer. He's a left-handed hitter who is going to help a team win. He's kind of a pesky at-bat at the top of the order that, when he gets back in there, it's going to be a pleasure to have him.

Cole: Pinto is an undersized lefty bat, but he was fantastic in the Dominican Summer League last season, hitting .396 in 56 games. Talk about that feel to hit that he has.

Holmberg: There are guys that have a knack to hit. There are guys that just have a knack to play. There are guys who see this game differently than others. And Pinto is in his frame––he is who he is, and he understands that. And I think that's why he does things above and beyond that most people don't expect out of him.

He's going to be the little engine that could. He's going to grind at-bats, he's going to make you work, he's going to make a diving play, and he's going to throw a guy out. He is going to do those little things that help you win and make a manager and an organization happy to have him.

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