Holland dominant in Double-A debut

FRISCO - Derek Holland was phenomenal in his Double-A debut on Wednesday night, surrendering just one unearned run in eight innings pitched. He allowed four hits, walked one, and struck out 10. Lone Star Dugout was on hand to provide analysis from the outing.

The Texas Rangers selected Derek Holland in the 25th round of the 2006 MLB Draft. Just over two years later, he has developed into one of baseball's elite pitching prospects.

Lone Star Dugout has been on hand for four of Holland's starts this season – two with Clinton, one with Bakersfield and one with Frisco. In Clinton, we saw his fastball sit at 92-94 mph, topping out at 95. In his next start, he worked in the 91-93 mph range, topping out at 94.

One month later, the southpaw made his third start with High-A Bakersfield, pitching on the road against the San Jose Giants. He threw 12 fastballs in a perfect first inning. They were clocked as follows: 94 mph, 91, 90, 91, 92, 95, 95, 95, 94, 91, 94, 94.

Rangers fans had been hearing about Holland's rapid development and increased velocity all season, but it wasn't until Wednesday night that they were able to see it with their own eyes. The left-hander not only didn't disappoint – he proved there was still more in the tank.

Pitching to five batters in the first inning on Wednesday, Holland threw 14 fastballs. He touched 97 mph three times, 96 five times, 95 once, 94 three times, and 93 twice. Holland even showed the ability to hold his velocity deep into the game, as his fastball sat comfortably in the 93-95 mph range in the fifth through eighth innings.

But it isn't all about velocity. Plenty of minor league pitchers have mid-90s gas and most who do will likely never throw a pitch in the Major Leagues. One aspect that sets Holland apart from most pitchers is his ability to locate his hard fastball.

Holland kept the ball on the ground, but also climbed the ladder for four of his strikeouts.
Holland threw 65 pitches in the game's first five innings – 55 were fastballs. Just 38 of his first 65 pitches in San Jose were fastballs. On Wednesday, Holland was able to dominate a Double-A lineup on basically one pitch by keeping them off-balance. He constantly changed the Tulsa hitters' eye levels – going in, away, up, and down at will.

Holland has also complemented his spike in velocity with the rapid development of a very strong slider. The Wallace State product was predominantly a two-pitch pitcher [fastball and changeup] in college, but a mechanical adjustment made in Spokane last year has helped Holland develop a more consistent breaking ball.

On Wednesday night, Holland's slider and changeup were both clearly lacking compared to the starts we had seen in the Midwest and California Leagues. But it didn't seem to bother Holland, as he pounded the strike zone all night long in his Double-A debut, surrendering only one unearned run in eight innings pitched. He allowed four hits, walked one, and struck out 10.

The 21-year-old appeared to be overthrowing the slider a bit, causing it to level out. His slider, which is relatively soft, has been most effective in the 78-80 mph range this season. Holland's first slider on Wednesday came in at 86 mph. His two best sliders of the night, which came in the eighth inning, were both clocked in the upper-70s.

Although he only used his changeup sparingly early in the game, the pitch – like his slider – showed improvement in the later innings.

That Holland was able to tear through a Double-A lineup without his best offspeed stuff is a testament to his toughness, his confidence, and – obviously – his fastball. As Holland settles in during his next couple of starts, his slider and changeup should both show more consistency.

Neftali Feliz has been almost unanimously regarded as the Rangers' new top prospect all season long, but the continued progression of Holland should have many pundits questioning that position.

Regardless of how the two are ranked, one thing is certain: with 20-year-old Neftali Feliz and 21-year-old Derek Holland, the Texas Rangers have two of the top pitching prospects in all of professional baseball.

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