Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Brad Holman

Erlin is mature beyond his years

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – The Hickory Crawdads have a pitching staff loaded with some of the Texas Rangers organization's top prospects. Lone Star Dugout sat down with second-year pitching coach Brad Holman to discuss the talented arms.

Jason Cole: Throughout the year, you guys have had a ton of great arms, including a bunch of starting pitching prospects. Tell me about the challenges of finding innings for all those guys.

Brad Holman: At this level, it's not so tough because obviously they're a little limited in the innings that they can throw. But the Rangers' scouting department has done a tremendous job of getting quality arms in here. That makes my job easy.

It is just about managing them and taking what they bring and honing it. There are a few cases of guys that have added a pitch or made a delivery alteration and things like that and sent them in a better direction. But there hasn't been any magic, really.

It has been more of an approach. It has been attacking hitters with first-pitch strikes, staying ahead in the count, and pitching to contact––not away from the bat. The goal with that is to minimize pitch counts, to avoid the free bases––the base on balls––and to stay in pitchers' counts, where you have a better chance for success.

It's kind of contagious. You start to get one or two guys that follow through with it, and then all the sudden you have a group of guys that kind of feed off each other.

Cole: Even though he's in his first year, do you feel that Robbie Erlin is that sort of leader? He seems to be a guy that goes out, throws strikes, and limits his pitch count.

Holman: Definitely. He is mature beyond his years, to say the least. He commands three pitches––fastball, changeup and curveball. He has an uncanny sense for what the hitter is trying to do against him. He has a really good way of getting to the point where he can exploit what the hitter is trying to do against him.

He does a great job of sequences––very mature sequences. Most guys at his age tend to get into a 1-2 or 0-2 count and then all the sudden here come the breaking balls. But Robbie isn't like that. He senses that the hitter might be cheating to a breaking ball or a changeup, and he'll finish a hitter hard.

He's just a real pleasant individual to work with. He's extremely intellectual and coachable. Just a pleasant individual and you can't say enough about him in the positive. And he could probably take what he's got right now and be competitive at any level.

Brigham's slider has been a big asset.
Cole: You mentioned some guys adding pitches. One of those guys is Jake Brigham, who came down here and added a slider. Can you talk about what was behind adding the slider, and how it is coming along?

Holman: That was a decision that myself, Mark Connor and Danny Clark came together on. The concern is that, when Jake falls into those even counts or behind in the count, he wasn't able to command his curveball and changeup well enough. As a result, he was having to give in with the fastball.

So the slider is an easier pitch to command than the curveball. And also the changeup, because he has got kind of small hands. So it just gives him an option when he's behind in the count.

Not only that, but he also has a very, very good arm and a live fastball. The slider is kind of a pitch that works off the fastball a bit. It's hard to pick up; it's hard to detect from a hitter's standpoint. It has just given him an option––a go-to pitch––in any situation, whether it be behind in the count for a strike or ahead in the count for a put-away. And that pitch has been successful to right-handers and left-handers.

Cole: Is he throwing the slider more often than his curveball now?

Holman: Yeah, I think so. Just because of the fact that he can command it. A changeup is to a fastball kind of like a slider is to a curveball. Where using a changeup makes a fastball better, using a slider helps the curveball. You get that element of back-and-forth. But a slider also bridges the gap and benefits the fastball as well.

Cole: You were able to work with Neil Ramirez last year as well as this year. Can you talk about the improvements that he has made in his overall game in the time you've been working with him?

Holman: Neil has really taken his career by the horns, so to speak. He's probably the hardest worker out of any of the kids here. He has a plan, he has a purpose. His delivery, when he came here last year, was very rotational. And he struggled with not just command––he struggled with throwing strikes, period. He is to the point now where he has learned so much about his delivery that he could probably teach it. And as a matter of fact, I know he could teach it to kids or his peers.

He is able to make adjustments. He's directional now in his delivery, which gives him the ability to stay in his lanes. What I try to preach to the kids is that up-down misses are a lot less of a problem than side-to-side misses. So you try and minimize the rotational aspect of the delivery, which gives you a more predictable approach to a pitch. He does that very, very well. He makes adjustments well, he understands the timing of the delivery.

He understands hitters' tendencies in game situations and he is now able to execute to the point where he can use that information. Before, when he knew what a hitter's weakness was, it didn't do him any good because he couldn't throw the pitch where he wanted to. And the same with game situations. If he needs a ground ball now, he can get a ground ball.

He has learned to control the running game. Where runners used to run on him rampant––he was a 1.7 or 1.8 to the plate. We have got that down now on a consistent basis to a 1.3, which––provided a good receive, throw and tag––that throws out the best runners. He is picking guys off, he's working with the middle infielders on holding runners at second.

You just can't say enough. It's amazing, the growth that this kid has had. Not just from a pitching standpoint, but from a personal standpoint. He's very mature to the nth degree from where he was a year ago. It has been pleasant and fun.

Cole: I noticed that his windup these days is basically just the stretch with a step added. When did you make that adjustment?

Holman: We made that adjustment last year with him, because the straight step back and the pivot to the balance point is actually an exaggerated rotational movement. That was something that he struggled with. So to simplify for him, we just turned him sideways and abbreviated––the pivot foot is already pivoted, the hips are already turned so he doesn't have to turn to get to a balance point.

It has just been a simple approach for him to repeat his delivery. And from that point forward, everything he does after is similar to the stretch and windup so he doesn't have to feel like he's learning two different deliveries. It has been an easier way to go about cleaning that delivery up.

Cole: His velocity is back to where it was in high school and Spokane. Do you it has been a product of his arm being accustomed to throwing a full-season?

Holman: Yeah, I think that's a large part of it. I think part of it is also getting the rotational part of his delivery cleaned up. There is still a weight transition, but it's just a more vertical transition as opposed to a horizontal transition. That gets the energy working behind the baseball, and obviously energy that goes toward home plate is going to help a baseball going toward home plate.

Understanding the preparation aspect of the delivery, learning to load up––so to speak––so he can utilize his core strength. And along with the core strength comes timing, because now the body and the arm function as one unit. The body helps deliver the arm and it all works in the right direction.

Alongside that, he's as strong as an ox. The kid works his butt off. It has been a combination of a lot of things. But credit to him. His focus is on the prize, there's no doubt about it. He's moving in the right direction.

Thompson has no shortage of potential.
Cole: What do you take away from Matt Thompson's first year in full-season ball?

Holman: He was another one who has had to learn a little bit about how to eliminate the rotational aspect of the delivery. That is probably my first approach with these guys at this level––to teach them the delivery. And not necessarily specifically to them, but more blanket checkpoints that apply to all pitchers. It starts with the balance obviously, but learning why you need to get prepped after the balance, when to throw, how far to prep, how to work out of that.

The objective is that––when they learn their deliveries––then they can self-coach. And with Matt Thompson, that has been the biggest thing this year. When he gets into a funk, he doesn't just try things. He has got specific information that he can go to. Like Neil, he understands the delivery, how it works, and why it has to work that way.

It's funny because he just had his brother in, and it was funny listening to Matt help his little brother, who is going to be a senior in high school this year. He was helping his little brother with his delivery. It was really rewarding for me as a coach to hear him turning and taking that information and handing it down to somebody else.

Cole: Tell me about Miguel De Los Santos. Obviously last year was rough for him, being stuck in the Dominican. What are your thoughts on how he has progressed since you got him this season?

Holman: Just from what he brought with him when he came here––he's pretty special. He has got three pitches––fastball, curveball and changeup––that are all above-average major league pitches.

For me, the best thing he can do now to move forward in his career is command the baseball. Namely his fastball. Because he actually does a pretty good job of commanding his changeup. But with his curveball and his fastball, he tends to try and do too much with them. And learning to do what he's capable of doing instead of trying to ask himself to do what he's not capable of doing has been the main focus.

He has the typical kind of Latin approach, so to speak. They tend to like to stay soft and they tend to like to pitch away all the time. So getting him to pitch inside to hitters has been a goal, as well. He is doing better with it.

He's also learning, like the others, how to do it. It's not just, ‘Hey, you've got to pitch in.' He needs to understand how to stay in his lanes and direct the baseball with the body and not with just the hand. He is doing that well also. Just right now, the main focus has been to get him to learn to like to pitch in.

Cole: I want to talk about one guy that isn't here anymore––Wilmer Font. I saw him in Bakersfield and it looked like he had made a lot of strides in terms of learning how to pitch, getting first-pitch strikes, and things along those lines. Can you talk about his development from year one here to year two?

Holman: I call him ‘man-child.' He's just a real strong kid. But he needed a lot of maturing. More so from a personal standpoint, but also as a pitcher. He's another guy that had a lot of rotation in his delivery. And every time he threw the baseball, he tried to throw it 110 mph.

From that aspect, it has been a lot of the same. Teaching him the delivery, teaching him how to maintain direction. With him, it has been a little slower and that is a little bit my fault because there is somewhat of a language barrier. But fortunately I've learned how to say the directions, body parts, and things like that in Spanish.

He really grew a lot. He went home in the winter. They sent him back here this year because they wanted to get him started how he finished. The second half of the season was really improved compared to his first half last year. To get him off on the right foot this year was a big deal.

His fastball command improved greatly. The changeup was a workable pitch. His curveball is coming along––it's something that I think is going to need work. I'm not so sure what Wilmer Font is going to be in the future, but I know this––if he continues to progress at the rate he did when I had him, I think he's going to be a special pitcher.

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