Holden steps in at Hagerstown

Less than 24 hours after playing in an extended spring training game in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Joe Holden found himself standing in centerfield at Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown, Md., having rushed to gather his belongings and join a new club.

Now, after batting .368 (14-for-38) through his first 11 games in the South Atlantic League and filling a void left by the injured Fernando Martinez atop Hagerstown's lineup, Holden appears to be making a pretty strong case to remain with the Suns.

"I was just working on some things in extended, and I guess it paid off," Holden said. "I really wasn't swinging as well as I would have liked, but I got in some games and got a couple of hits. It hasn't stopped yet."

Holden, 22, is immediately recognizable for his slight frame – he's listed at 5'11" and 165 pounds – but has surprising pop.

Joe Holden has fit in with his new Hagerstown Suns teammates, batting .368 in his first 38 at-bats. (Photo: Bryan Hoch/Inside Pitch)
Holden popped his first professional home run on May 18 at Lake County and already had four doubles and eight RBI through Monday's game at Lakewood.

Patrolling the outfield and getting on base atop the lineup, Holden isn't making people forget about Martinez, the Mets' 17-year-old super-prospect who played his first five weeks with a sore left hand, but he is helping the Suns remain competitive in his absence.

"You can't put anything by him," Hagerstown manager Frank Cacciatore said. "Joe's done a nice job, because losing Fernando at the top of the lineup hurt us. Fernando was a guy hitting (.322) and doing a heck of a job, and Joe has come in and played like an experienced player.

"He's got a little bit of knowledge and he's swinging the bat real well for us. He's picked up where Fernando left off."

Holden said he had his eyes set on Hagerstown during spring training, but a calf injury cost him two weeks and, likely, any shot of making the club. He hopes that his on-field performance will be enough to keep him here even when Martinez returns.

Cacciatore said that was a distinct possibility. When Martinez returns, he'll be re-instated to his centerfield spot, but Holden could continue to see action - perhaps as Hagerstown's left fielder.

"I'm kind of looking forward to Fernando coming back, and having those two guys in the lineup, from the left side especially," Cacciatore said. "It'll boost our offense."

Last year, Holden was a fan favorite at Class-A Brooklyn. A 21st round pick out of Mollow (N.Y.) College in the June draft, Holden hit .291 in 64 games for the Cyclones and ended up earning the team's Sterling Award – indicative of the most valuable player – within striking distance of his hometown of Wantagh, N.Y.

Through his first couple of weeks playing for Hagerstown, Holden has immediately recognized a much different situation.

"Coming into Brooklyn, people knew me because I was the hometown kid," Holden said. "Coming into Hagerstown, we don't get that many fans, and I've got to start over and try and make a name for myself."

Holden said that the entire Brooklyn experience – especially the tutelage of manager Mookie Wilson and coach Donovan Mitchell – has helped his transition.

"I definitely think it made me a better baseball player and a better person," Holden said. "It kind of brought me out of my shell. I was more of a shy person, and now I'm starting to talk and get along with the guys. That part has definitely helped."

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