Cole: You mentioned Alfaro's contribution to Perez's last start. He got out to a slow start but has really been picking it up offensively over the last couple weeks. What has led to his improvement?
Holmberg: A couple things. He took some time to grow up. He took some pressure off himself and started to pick up his teammates a little more, which is a tough thing for a young kid to do because you're so focused on what you're doing. We took a little bit of the pressure off him and tried to teach him a little leadership skills, which is a quality you need in a catcher. It kind of started there. Once we took that pressure off, he became a little more relaxed.
We challenged him to very simply look for balls up in the hitting zone and to lay off balls that were down and out of his hitting zone. It's a simple little gimmick that we tried, and it took off. We did it for a week. On balls that were up in his zone when he swung, he was hitting .625 with a home run, three RBI, two doubles and a triple. And balls that he was swinging at down out of his zone, he was 0-for-5 with five punchouts. So we took those stats and presented it to him and he bought into it a little bit. He just started rolling.
Cole: When he signed, he was a guy that had basically just started catching. How much has he developed behind the plate, and what has been the primary focus back there?
Holmberg: The arm strength is incredible. It's a plus-plus tool for him. Receiving, blocking and mobility is what we need to work on to get him better. He busts his butt every single day on those things. He's receiving the ball much better, he's blocking much better.
The mobility, I think, is going to come with time––once he gets stretched out and the body figures out where he's at. He's not your prototypical bounce-around, block-everything catcher right now. But I think that's a point of development that is so fun. You get to see where he's at now and then in a year, two years or five years from now, hopefully he's doing very very good things behind the plate.
Cole: With a 1993 birthdate, Luis Mendez among the younger players on the team and he has performed well this year. But he missed just over a month with an injury and went to Arizona for rehab. What was it that kept him out of action?
Holmberg: It was a knee injury. I think it was just something that he had to rehab. It was a play where he slid into home plate and had a little bit of a twist. We had to take him out of the game, he rehabbed it, and got that done in Arizona. Now he's back here. Nothing serious.
Cole: Unlike Perez and Alfaro, he hasn't played in the U.S. at Spring Training or Fall Instructional League yet. Can you tell me about his game and what kind of player he is at this point in his development?
Holmberg: He's the little engine that could. He's a guy that the other guys thrive off of. He's the spirit of this ballclub. He makes the plays and moves well to the left or right. He can play both middle infield positions.
A switch-hitting kid with a knack to make contact. He gets the barrel on the ball. He's not going to be a power guy, but he can drive it gap-to-gap. He will move runners and understands the game. A switch-hitting Santiago Chirino, if you will.
I'm very fond of this kid. I enjoy watching him play, I enjoy watching him prepare, and I enjoy watching the kids around him get better. I think that's a sign of a leader. The kids around him get better and they love to see him have success.
Cole: Another middle infielder infielder there is Hanser Alberto, who is currently second in the DSL with a .374 batting average. What are your impressions on his season so far?
Holmberg: He's a special baseball player. He knows how to use his eyes, he knows how to use his brain, his feet, and his hands. He's in total control of his body. He has passion for the game––he's a student of the game. He enjoys competition and the challenge of every single day.
He's never fooled on offspeed pitches down here. He's on top of fastballs here. He can bunt and play the situational part. He plays with energy. He has been extremely fun to watch. He is a kid that is going to benefit this organization and he's going to help kids around him get better. He has been a special, special player.
Cole: From looking at the numbers, he has struck out three times in 159 plate appearances. How is he able to make contact at such an incredible rate?
Holmberg: I don't know if you can explain it. He knows how to get the barrel on the ball. He knows how to battle. He has a nice setup and a great approach to the ball. His hand-eye coordination is outstanding. You can tell by just watching him play defense––by the reads that he gets on ground balls.
He recognizes really well for a young kid that hasn't played against very good competition growing up. Now that he's in the midst of competition, he just knows how to battle. It has been really cool to watch. Breaking balls 0-2, breaking balls 2-0––he's on them. A fastball 0-0––he's on it. He just has a great plan. He's a very witty and very smart baseball player.
Cole: Luis Parra is currently pitching his second summer in the DSL. It seems that he is making quite a few strides from last season. What areas has he progressed in to improve himself on the mound?
Holmberg: Number one is maturity. He has grown up a lot. He turned himself from a teenager into a young man. He's a left-handed pitcher with good stuff. He has two plus pitches––a fastball that has got a little life on it. It's sneaky fast and gets by the guys. The breaking ball has great spin. He knows how to use it––he can get ahead with it and he can put away with it. He controls runners outstanding now. I think last year, guys could get jumps on him and find their way into scoring position.
The fastball command is probably the biggest difference. And second to that is his ability to finish innings. He would be a guy last year that gets two quick outs and next thing you know it's first and second and he's found himself into a jam. He has been able to close the door this year, per se. He'll get the guy out, get the guy out and then finish the inning. That has obviously come along with maturity––not trying to throw harder, but just trying to throw strikes.
He has done a great job. Our staff has done a great job with pitching this whole entire summer. A lot of credit goes to Pablo Blanco and Jose Jaimes, no doubt about it. All five starters have really developed. They've gotten a lot better and four of the five are first-year guys. These kids are hungry, they want it, they go out every day and compete. They battle amongst each other.
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Kenny Holmberg (Part 2)
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