To prepare you for the upcoming draft season, the Noise, every Friday until opening day, will feature a lesser-known prospect that has excellent odds of making an indelible fantasy impact this season. Obvious products David Price and Matt Wieters, and charitable Bon Jovi songs, need not apply.
It's understandable why a majority of fantasy players would rather risk playing beer pong with someone who pops Valtrex than trust a Texas pitcher. Wins aside, thoughts of inflated ERA and WHIP numbers are repulsive.
But Derek Holland may sway conventional viewpoints.
The Rangers' second-best pitching prospect in a very rich farm system, Holland crawled out of the shadows to post outstanding numbers a year ago. Pitching at three different levels, he compiled a 2.27 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 9.18 K/9 in 154 innings. More impressively, the southpaw walked a mere 2.34 per nine and coaxed ample groundball outs (48.1 GB%).
Holland's overnight transformation from fringe major leaguer to future top-of-the-rotation ace is nothing short of incredible. Much of his success last season is pinpointed to a stark increase in fastball velocity. At the beginning of the year, his heater hovered around 90 mph, but by midseason he smoked radar guns, routinely touching 94-97 mph. Rangers director of minor league operations, John Lombardo, says the youngster's speed explosion was due to good old-fashioned hard work:
"Derek is a classic case of outstanding amateur scouting. We projected him to continue to improve. Did we think he'd throw 95-98? It's hard to ever project that. He's gotten stronger, he's gotten better with his work ethic. It's a testament to our scouting, our coaching staff and to his dedication to improving now that he's settled into the pro side."
Some scouts contend Holland's elongated delivery leaves the ball too exposed, limiting deception. If he can disguise pitches more discreetly, he could be an instant impact pitcher by midseason. Combine that with his terrific fastball command, above average change and poised mound presence, and his game could reach All-Star caliber heights in the near future, especially once his unpolished mid-80s slider is refined.
Here's a snapshot of his mechanics in full animated picture and sound:
Holland entered spring training with realistic expectations, hoping to gain experience and advance his weaknesses. He believed striving to break camp with the senior club would create unnecessary pressure - smart. From MLB.com:
"I want to get better control and a better feel for it (breaking ball). I'm not happy with it. I need to make more improvements... I'm here to learn and gain experience. My plan is not to make the team, but to learn as much as I can and go from there."
In three spring games, the 22-year-old has yielded three earned and posted a 4:3 K:BB split in 5.1 innings. Although an unspectacular sample, his steady improvements have captivated the attention of Ron Washington who plans not to demote Holland or fellow super-prospect Neftali Feliz when first cuts are levied March 16.
Despite the endorsement, it's highly unlikely Holland will open the season in the Rangers rotation. More probable, he'll be a fixture at Oklahoma City (Triple-A) over the season's first half. However, with terribly vanilla options Matt Harrison and Scott Feldman expected to anchor the fourth and fifth Rangers spots respectively, an opportunity could arise quickly. When that day comes, be prepared to snatch the lefty off waivers in deep mixed leagues. Meanwhile, for AL-only followers, he's roster-worthy now (Side note: the Noise snatched him for a crisp George Washington this past weekend at LABR). Long-term he has 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 180 K potential.
Fearless Forecast: 5 W, 68.1 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 57 K
Image courtesy of Getty