Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Kenny Holmberg (Part 1)

The Dominican Summer League Rangers currently have a 32-22 record, sitting one game behind the Cubs2 for first place in the Boca Chica South Division. Lone Star Dugout sat down with DSL Rangers manager Kenny Holmberg in part one of this two-part interview series.

Jason Cole: You guys are sitting through a tropical storm in the Dominican Republic right now, getting a couple of unwanted days off.

Kenny Holmberg: Yeah. As we stand today, we're a game behind the Chicago Cubs' club down here. We're playing pretty good baseball for a young club. We've come a long way since day one––mentally and physically––as baseball players. They're doing a great job on all ends.

The pitchers are getting better, defensively we're getting better, and we're running the bases aggressively and intelligently. The bats have been alive and well all year. We're swinging the bats a lot better than we did last year as a club. Like I said, from the get-go, they're all just getting better.

Cole: You're in a new complex this season in Boca Chica, and you're also playing in a different division. What was the adjustment like on both fronts?

Holmberg: The complex––it's a change. It's different. It's a different setup. We still have two fields and a cage, which is good. The bullpens aren't the same, which limits us a little bit on trying to do some of those things. But, like I said, it's two fields, which the kids need to work out and practice, knock out fundamentals, hit BP, and do all the stuff they need to do. So that's good. The complex itself––there's improvements from the other place.

Being in this division––it's better for everybody. We're playing against the Yankees, the Phillies, competing with the Mets, the Cubs, and the Giants. The Giants have won the league back-to-back years here––in 2009 and 2010. It's good. It's a grind. The teams play baseball the right way with good pitching and guys that can command breaking balls a lot better than the other division.

Cole: Chris Garia was there with you last year, and he has made a lot of progress this season. He's currently hitting .326 with a .429 on-base percentage and 25 stolen bases. I know he had a background in track. How much baseball experience did he have when he came into the organization?

Holmberg: He was a kid that played with Jurickson on those Willemstad, Curacao, teams that went to the Little League World Series back-to-back years. Chris was an athlete on that team, and he was an arm on that team. He wasn't as much of a speed guy as he is now. Chris played first base, he pitched, and he actually gave up the home run to Hawaii, which was the walkoff there in 2006 or 2007––you'd have to look that one up.

He played competitively. He likes baseball; he enjoys it. This year, he really took the task and challenged himself. He set attainable goals every two weeks, and he has reached those goals. It led to an All-Star half. He is trying to finish up here as a postseason All-Star, as well, and help carry this club into a playoff atmosphere and scenario where he can take his game to another level. Competitive-wise, he has played competitive baseball and he has ran competitive track. He knows about pressure, he knows about situations, and he knows how to compete.

Cole: What areas of his game have you seen the most improvement in this year?

Holmberg: For the most part, at the plate. He has kind of settled in at the plate. He has found a setup and a stance that is comfortable to him. It puts him in a good position to stay on top and stay through the baseball. He is really hitting some line drives the other way and staying inside the ball. He is battling with two strikes––something that he had to learn as a leadoff guy and a guy that sets the tone.

And he's not afraid with two strikes anymore. I think, last year, he got up there and he would just chase bad pitches with two strikes. Now he's laying off those pitches, taking those walks, and he's putting the ball in play. And that puts pressure on the defense with his ability to run. He has got himself––I'd have to say out of his 60-some hits, 15 of them are infield hits, if not more. That's no knock on him. He has been driving the baseball, finding gaps, and he is creating some havoc when he does put the ball in play.

That's his biggest jump––at the plate. It's a confidence thing. It's the knowledge of what kind of hitter he is, what kind of player he is going to become, and I think he is really moving to that. He is playing with some swagger and playing as if he's the best player in this league right now.

Cole: Is he still switch-hitting?

Holmberg: He is still switch-hitting. He is driving balls from both sides of the plate. He gets big at times from the right side. But he is staying committed to his approach, getting ready to hit, and staying on top of the baseball and staying inside of it. He's doing a good job of keeping the ball out of the air. And like I said, he's putting pressure on the defense.

Cole: Given his elite speed and the body type, does Garia project as a centerfielder down the line?

Holmberg: Yeah, he has to. I think the strength of his arm is going to come along, and the development of his accuracy is going to come along. But right now, he's a guy that can go gap-to-gap. He has shown this year that he has stepped up his leadership as well defensively––not just at the plate. He is really getting balls in the gap, and he is really going to get balls in front of him.

He is calling off our shortstop, calling off our second baseman, and calling off our corner outfielders. He is doing a great job in that sense. And he is an improved centerfielder. For the development purpose, he has played the corner. Luckily, we have some other guys that can play center field down here. We are an athletic club. We want to develop him just in case we have to call upon him in left field down the road.

Cole: I also want to talk about Luis Marte, your talented shortstop. He got off to an excellent start but seemed to fall into the first slump of his professional career this past month. What was leading to that first funk?

Holmberg: I hate to make excuses for these young kids down here, but like you said, it's his first year and his first July. I've said this before––down here, it's a job for these kids. They're up at 6:00 in the morning. He does a speed and agility course at 6:15 and gets 100 swings in before breakfast. Then he does his normal stretch at 8:00, which leads up to our normal day. It's a grind for these kids, and he has shown a lot of physical and mental toughness to battle through. I tip my hat to the kid.

I had him out of the lineup for a day just to give him a little bit of a blow after the All-Star break, and he said, ‘Hey man, I'm the shortstop of this team.' And he went out and hit two doubles and got another hit. That's this kid's make-up. He is a big competitor. He battles and makes adjustments. I wouldn't call it so much of a slump––just a period of time where he was run down a little bit and the process of our everyday grind here that we present these kids with.

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