Name: David Holmberg
Notable 2011 Stats: 2.39 ERA, 2.44 FIP, 3 HRA, 13 BB, 81 K, and 54% GB% in 83 IP with South Bend (A);
4.67 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 5 HRA, 35 BB, 76 K, and 45% GB% in 71 1/3 IP with Visalia (High-A);
3.44 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 8 HRA, 48 BB, 157 K, and 50% GB% in 154 1/3 IP total
Why He’s This High: Since 2005, there have been exactly seven teenage starting pitchers who threw at least 30 innings in High-A while striking out over a batter per inning. Those seven: Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Julio Teheran, Chris Tillman, John Lamb, Tyler Skaggs, and David Holmberg. The other six all looked to be top-25, or at least top-50 prospects when they accomplished that feat, and I believe Holmberg’s worthy of that distinction as well.
Not only did he strike out 76 batters in 71 1/3 innings with Visalia, Holmberg also showed ability in the other key aspects of pitching. In Low-A, he walked just 1.41 batters per nine innings, a trend that he carried over from 2010, when he walked just 16 batters in 77 2/3 Rookie ball frames, whiffing 76. Holmberg also showed an ability to keep the ball in the park, even in the foreboding California League, and has always posted average or better groundball numbers.
Furthermore, Holmberg is a very big lefthanded pitcher who looks built for 220-inning workloads. He already handled 154 1/3 frames this past season, an unusally large workload for somebody so young, and showed no ill effects.
Holmberg has an advanced arsenal that somewhat evokes Ted Lilly‘s, as he throws an 88-91 mph fastball with good sink, a big, slow curveball, an above-average changeup that should solidify as a plus offering, and a workable slider. He has an easily repeatable delivery that features just enough funk to make him somewhat deceptive.
Why He’s This Low: Scouts don’t like Holmberg a whole lot, as he doesn’t bring a whole lot of velocity to the table and likely won’t average over 90 mph on the pitch as a starter. There’s some concern that he’s as good as he’s ever going to be right now, as there’s not a whole lot he can really improve given the limitations of his stuff.
Holmberg’s walk rate ballooned in High-A, and he’ll need to get that back down toward his low-minors levels if he’s going to pitch more toward the front of a rotation than the back. He could stand to bring his offspeed pitches in the zone more, as he has a tendency to pound the zone with his fastball and then nibble with the curve and changeup, a formula which he needs to refine to optimize his K/BB ratio against more patient hitters.
Conclusions: You won’t see Holmberg on many top 100 lists, let alone this high, and although I’m already regretting some of my placements (including some players I have yet to get to), this isn’t one of them. Holmberg reminds me of a cross between Lilly and Brett Anderson, who himself was once doubted for his doughy physique and merely average velocity. From a statistical perspective, it’s tough to find a whole lot of flaws in Holmberg’s game once you take his age relative to his levels into account, and his stuff isn’t so weak that we should be throwing that out the window. The lack of velocity should give pause when considering whether Holmberg is going to be a true #1 starter, but beyond that? Plenty of lefties have met great success in the big leagues throwing in the upper 80′s, and I feel very strongly that Holmberg is going to be one of the best “crafty lefties” in the majors for many years.
Whether I’m right or wrong about him, Holmberg will be a fascinating guy to follow, as it’ll be interesting to see exactly what limitations his velocity places on his progression.
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