Prospect update: Derek Holland edition

LHP Derek Holland, OKC -- I have already talked about Holland quite a bit in these updates this spring, as he was one of the most important names on a minor league roster and has not disappointed on the field. Matt Harrison left last night’s iffy start with biceps tendinitis, so Holland could step into a rotation spot with the Rangers just over one month into the season.

Holland made his major league debut last April after charging through the minors in little time. After making his professional debut in 2007 for short-season Spokane, he began 2008 in Low A Clinton. After a half-season there, he made five starts in High A Bakersfield and four more for Frisco. His numbers improved at each level, and he ended that season as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. He made just one start for Triple-A Oklahoma City last spring before joining the Rangers bullpen and subsequently their rotation, so Holland’s total experience above the Low A level was just ten starts.

Holland struggled with his overall command as well as his consistent ability to use his secondary pitches while with the Rangers. There were flashes, such as his dominating start against the Mariners on the eve of the trade deadline, but he was woefully inconsistent. Some preseason projections had him in the Opening Day rotation, but the Rangers decided to give him a slower start to this season in OKC.

That slower start gave him an opportunity this April to reestablish his confidence in his full arsenal, as well as his promising command. He has made six starts for OKC, more than his previous total for AA and AAA combined, and his game appears to be coming together. His secondary pitches have improved, and his 37:7 K:BB ratio demonstrates his progress in controlling the strike zone. Holland was plagued by the long ball while with the Rangers last season, allowing 26 in 138 innings. He has allowed only one in 38.2 innings this spring, and his ground ball rate has jumped by about ten percent.

Holland’s game was incomplete last season, and that was apparent in his body language, location and numbers. Now 23, he appears more prepared if the Rangers do need to call on him.

OF Miguel Velazquez, Hickory -- While Holland is the minor leaguer poised to impact the Rangers, two more lower level players, Crawdad teammates Velazquez and Robbie Erlin, deserve notice. Velazquez entered the season as one of the top players to watch in the Texas system, a rare promising position player in the middle levels of the organization. He made good on that promise, finishing April batting .306/.372/.565. In May, he is exploding onto the national prospect scene, topping those numbers with a five game stretch of 7-for-16 with three HR and 4BB:0SO. Velazquez will turn 22 next week, and a promotion to Bakersfield would have him right back on target as a top prospect.

LHP Robbie Erlin, Hickory - If Velazquez is the Rangers’ breakout position player this spring, Erlin might be the breakout pitcher. Like Velazquez, he was a highly touted amateur, and the Rangers chose him in the third round, so we aren’t talking about a sleeper. But unlike most high school pitchers, Erlin nearly skipped short-season ball altogether, throwing just four innings last August in rookie ball. While the organization gave him an advanced assignment to full-season Hickory on Opening Day, Erlin has been protected, pitching in two- to three- inning relief stints. He has been dominant in that role, with a 19:4 and just nine hits allowed in 18 innings. His ERA is a miniscule 0.49. For a terrific full scouting report on Erlin, check out Jason Parks’ piece posted this morning.