Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Brad Holman

WILMINGTON, Del. – Through 42 games, the Myrtle Beach pitching staff leads the Carolina League in both earned-run average (3.09) and strikeouts (364). Lone Star Dugout recently sat down with Pelicans pitching coach Brad Holman.

Jason Cole: I guess just start off by telling me about your pitching staff this season. It seems like you've got a group of young, aggressive pitchers that throw a lot of strikes.

Brad Holman: I think that's true. That is kind of our motto as a group––to kind of attack hitters, pitch to contact, stay ahead in the count, use all of the pitches for strikes, and never give the hitter too much credit. And we've got guys here that can throw strikes, and they don't pick at the zone. They trust the defense. With a lot of the parks in this league, they're a little bit pitcher-friendly. So everything just lines us up to take an aggressive approach. And to their credit, they do it.

Cole: Neil Ramirez made one start here before moving up to Triple-A. You also had him in Hickory the last couple years. In general, how far as he come from when you initially got him?

Holman: I don't even think I could really explain to you how far he has come in words. Just from a delivery standpoint, I think it's what it is from the onlooker. He was a guy that really struggled throwing strikes. He threw hard, but that is what he keyed on, I think––throwing hard. He had trouble executing pitches with the fastball, let alone his secondary stuff.

He has come along now to where he has learned his delivery, he stays in his lanes, he's able to throw his secondary pitches for strikes. And at the same token, he was able to dial back up on the stuff.

But from a personal standpoint, his work ethic has carried him further than anything. He probably outworks anybody in this organization. And he just has a really clear approach to things and what he's trying to accomplish. He used to be kind of a spaz out on the mound to where he would hyperventilate and have trouble with clear thoughts. And now he's pitching with a plan and utilizing organized thoughts. To his credit, he has really, really grown.

Ramirez has progressed to Triple-A.
Cole: You mentioned that he used to be fairly spastic on the mound. He was very calm and collected in his Triple-A debut, facing probably the best lineup in Triple-A ball. Do you get any satisfaction out of that––seeing guys graduate from you and have that success?

Holman: That's the best satisfaction in being a coach––to see guys move on, see guys mature, and to see guys have success obviously. To be able to pitch at the highest level in baseball and still do that is as much of a reward as you can get as a coach––aside from financial reward, I suppose. But there's nothing that makes you feel better.

Cole: You've also had Robbie Erlin for the past two years. He is clearly a very polished pitcher, but is there anything that he has improved upon between the two years?

Holman: Yeah. From a standpoint of where Robbie's at, he is very polished. He has just taken initiative to learn his own delivery and to find checkpoints within his own delivery. He still falters, like anybody, where it comes to losing hand speed on secondary pitches, leaving the rubber early, and things like that. He has just learned how to alleviate those issues and recognize those issues.

But the holding the runners has been an area where he has grown a lot. He used to be a 1.7 or 1.8 all the time to the plate, which, from a lefty standpoint, is not as bad as a righty. But when a runner goes first move on him, it kind of makes it a bang-bang play even if he picks off. He's a little quicker and more efficient to the plate.

He has worked through his pickoff and worked in just understanding game situations and hitters' tendencies. He is hungry for knowledge. He comes and seeks me out as well as others. He reads books. He studies the game. And he wants to be great. That's why he is, I think, having the success that he's having.

Cole: It seemed like Joe Wieland made steady progress with his curveball and overall game last season. But he is certainly having his statistical breakout so far this season. Can you sum up what his been behind his success this year?

Holman: I think part of that is just growing up and maturing as a pitcher and as a person. Joe, being in the Cal League last year, learned a lot about what it takes to be successful as a pitcher in a hitter environment. Now, he has taken that information, and he has stepped into a more pitcher-friendly environment. And he still keys on the things that he did last year. I think he does them all a little better. He is really focusing on getting the ball down in the zone. And he is a different pitcher when he's knees as opposed to mid-thighs. And he knows that.

His breaking ball––he's able to pitch with it. He can throw it for strikes when he needs to, and he can throw it below the zone when he needs to. The changeup has always been a good pitch for him, and he continues to use that as a tool when he's even or behind in the count. And this year, he has also made the addition of a slider, which is kind of a cutter-slider type pitch. It gives him options also like the changeup––behind or even in the count as well as a put-away pitch away from a righty or back-foot to a lefty.

Cole: When Wieland was in the Cal League last year, his strikeout rate went up but he was also hit around at times. Do you feel that working in the hitter-friendly environment forced him to learn within-the-zone fastball command on the fly?

Holman: No doubt about it. I think, when you go up the levels in professional baseball, you are taught to keep doing what you're doing. And that's true to a certain extent. I think, at some point in time, the level will force change. The environment that you're in will force change.

And with Joe, I think he's a pretty cerebral guy––as are those other guys we have talked about. He is not going to sit there and get his head beat in. He's going to fight back. And he's going to do it in any way he can, whether it's an intellectual approach or working through it by adding another pitch or whatever he needs to do. His biggest thing is that he completely shuts down the running game. They don't run against him.

Ross has a 2.47 ERA.
Cole: Is Robbie Ross throwing his slider a little harder than he was last year?

Holman: I don't think harder. Maybe it's a little bit more consistent. I think the velocity with Robbie's fastball has been maybe a mile or two up. But it's not anything significant. Robbie Ross––just like these other guys––is just learning how he does it. And when he gets off, he is starting to make adjustments to self-coach and get himself back on track. From my standpoint, that's great. I can just watch them instead of making so many treks out there to the mound.

Cole: Obviously you have some experience coaching at the Low- and High-A levels. Do you find that it's rare to have so many young pitchers––and particularly recent high school graduates––that are cerebral and can make their own adjustments on the mound?

Holman: I think it's extremely rare. And the credit goes to the Texas Rangers' scouting department. Obviously they have pushed some good buttons and worked a lot of hours. They did a lot of time trying to get to know these guys on an intimate level––not just as a pitcher. It's easy to see that there is some credibility taken in more than just the stuff coming out of the guy's hand. And when you get a guy like that to work with, it really makes it easy when the things that you teach and the things that you work on stick.

Cole: You have also coached most of these guys over multiple seasons now. Is there a pitcher that came in this season that you felt made a particularly big jump between last year and this year?

Holman: I think Neil Ramirez was one––from where he was at to where he is now is night and day. I mean, it is really improvement. And not necessarily in the stuff. The stuff was always there. Just the ability to command the same stuff. And he had to take a step backwards and learn his delivery and kind of slow things down a little bit. And then back forwards again and adding the stuff back to his pitches.

Tyler Tufts is one that, for me, is a surprise. When I came into the organization, he was an 87-88 mph guy. And now he's in Double-A at 93-95 mph and sinking the ball. He keeps the ball on the ground––that's his biggest attribute. His fastball gets ground balls.

Cole: Tell me a little about Joe Ortiz out of the bullpen. It seems like lefties just don't hit him. Is part of that success against southpaws due to the slider that he has?

Holman: Well, the slider is good. And that's something that he has always had. I think the one thing we've keyed on with Joe is to try and not get caught in a slider rut. I think what has made him effective is that, for one, the slider is good. But it's largely better because of the fact that he's getting back to his fastball. Where he used to get into a slider rut and just keep hammering sliders. And now he is throwing a slider or two sliders, and he is hopping a fastball in there. Now the hitter has to respect that. I think that has made his slider better as well.

Cole: Ortiz has played winterball in Venezuela for the last few seasons. How much does that experience help him over here?

Holman: He sure has. I think he plays for La Guaira. I know, myself, I played in Venezuela––in Caracas––for a couple winters. And they get crazy––the fans. They throw their trash and they holler at you. It's a wild environment. So if you can do it in that environment, I think you can pretty much do it anywhere. He definitely pitches with swagger.

Cole: It's Barret Loux's first year in the organization. What have you come away with on him so far?

Holman: He is also a cerebral guy. I keep throwing that word out there, but all of these guys have an intellectual approach to what they do. They have a plan not just in their pitching, but also in everything they do––from eating to working out to their entire being.

With Barret, he came in––a big righty and obviously there is a lot there to work with. He already featured a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and a curveball, slider, changeup to go with it. His delivery is not far off. There are some things that he has run into here and there that we have discussed.

But he is very adamant about wanting to have the information for himself. All these guys––to be able to give them something and know that they're hungry for it and because of that, they want to keep it and have the answers for themselves––it just makes it easy. But Barret has fallen right in with those other guys.

Cole: Do you feel there is a sense of competitiveness among the starting pitchers here? For example, if one sees Erlin go out and pound the zone and succeed, will the other try to best that? I guess, would you say it's kind of contagious?

Holman: I think contagious is a better word than competitiveness. And the reason I say that is because they're not pressuring each other. I think this group of guys––they're all on the same page and they're all encouraging with each other and they all pull for each other. I think that's the best thing they could do.

I know when I was a player, one of the first things that was told to me was to never wish bad on somebody else because it doesn't guarantee you anything. I think these guys take that approach as well. To hope the other guy does bad doesn't mean anything for you––you still have to go out there and get it done. They are very supportive of each other, and I think they definitely watch each other. What one guy does well, I think, is by all means contagious.

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