Holder Making The Transition

TAMPA, FL - Jonathan Holder, last year's sixth round pick, was the closer for Mississippi State University and began immediately transitioning to the starting role in his debut season in Staten Island last year. Things have gone so well so quickly that he was skipped over the low-A level entirely and is beginning his first full season in high-A Tampa, and he made quite a debut the other night.

Making his 2015 debut against the Lakeland Flying Tigers on Saturday, Holder threw 70 pitches in six shutout innings of three-hit ball and not allowing a walk, and did so despite a two-hour-plus rain delay.

While that last part might not seemingly be a big deal, it is for a pitcher still learning how to adapt to the starting rotation. A closing pitcher from Mississippi State University, Holder spent his offseason returning to his alma mater before Spring Training to help ease his way further into his new role.

“I was fortunate when I was at school in the offseason [that] I was surrounded by guys that had once played pro ball,” Holder said. “I kind of had an idea what I was going into [starting-wise] from them telling me what to expect, like how to get my body in shape, my arm ready and be on track for when Spring Training started.”

He spent a lot of time getting into shape for the season, losing a significant amount of body fat and building up muscle. Venturing back to Florida for Spring Training, Holder quickly got into the swing of things, getting into a comfortable rhythm with his pitches and working with other players, coaches and coordinators to slowly develop a schedule and routine.

“I’m actually still to this day trying to find a set routine that’s perfect for me," he admitted, "because in college I was a closer. I had a certain routine as a bullpen guy and now being a starter, and having more pitches and having to go longer and have more endurance, you have to find a different routine that’s going to be good for a starting pitcher.”

Saturday was just his eight start ever and obviously his first pitching a long-season league, and yet he made it look pretty easy at times. In particular, Tampa Yankees pitching coach Tommy Phelps was impressed with the early transition and pitching techniques Holder was making.

“I thought he did great," Phelps said. "He pitched in the SEC for one of the big schools and the jump from there to here is not as big because he’s faced a lot of D-1 players.

"In Spring Training he showed command of his fastball on both sides of the plate, he showed he can throw strikes and expand. With his makeup and his feel, he should be at this level to begin with.”

Despite his lack of experience in a starting capacity, Holder was one of the real standouts in minor league Spring Training camp this year. When it comes to his arsenal of his pitches and new role, Holder has four quality pitches and he can throw them all for strikes, in in particular commanding his fastball on both sides of the plate.

In fact, with his combination of four-pitch mix, movement, and command, Holder even seems to obtain relatively similar techniques to fellow pitcher Brady Lail and it's a comparison not lost on his pitching coach.

“Holder and Lail both have the same type of pitches in a way that they’re able to attack the strike zone and mix it up,” Phelps agreed.

In Holder’s first game as a starter, the rain delay didn’t phase him. After waiting two hours and forty-five minutes for scattered thunderstorms to pass he came out strong, throwing strikes with a velocity high of 93 mph.

"He’s competitive and he was ready to go regardless of the wait,” Tampa manager Dave Bialas said. ”What I saw in Spring Training was that he deserved to be here because of the command of his fastball and how he’s able to get his offspeed pitches over as strikes, keeping hitters off-balance, and that’s what he did [the other] night.”

He hasn't been in his new role for very long and he obviously still has a long way to go towards establishing himself as a starting pitcher, but the early returns have been extremely favorable in his transition thus far and perhaps more importantly Holder himself is beginning to feel it.

“I had a little more adrenaline [Saturday] night playing in front of a little bid of a crowd out of Spring Training and in my first game for high- A," Holder said. "I feel like I zoned in the first inning and kind of got in a groove and just worked on my pitches each time."

Although playing in the Sunshine State is much different than playing in Staten Island or in college, Holder is already getting comfortable being at the high-A level despite the quick progression he’s had to endure.

“It’s a complete 360 being here. I played at a pretty high level in the SEC and I went to the [College] World Series,” Holder said, “but playing here you have to get your mind right every game and it’s a little more mental preparation.”


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