Clayton Holmes and Jake Burnette Off to Strong Starts

Clayton Holmes

For the last few years the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone heavy on the over-slot deals for high school pitching prospects. Last year was no different, with two of the big signings being seventh rounder Jake Burnette and ninth rounder Clayton Holmes. Burnette received a $550 K over-slot deal, while Holmes received a $1.2 M bonus, which set a ninth round record.

Burnette signed on August 1st. Holmes signed close to the deadline on August 15th. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think they signed together as a package deal. It seems like everywhere you go at Pirate City, if you see one of these two, you’re bound to see the other.

Last week the two were throwing live batting practice on separate fields. Holmes finished and immediately went over to watch Burnette. On Tuesday the two made their Spring debuts in actual games. After Burnette finished his outing, he came over to watch the game that featured Holmes going up against top prospect Gerrit Cole. Cole pitched one more inning than Holmes. Burnette didn’t stick around for that last inning.

The two didn’t know each other prior to signing. They first met in the Gulf Coast League after joining the organization, and the friendship developed in the fall instructional leagues. Based on recent history with other pitchers, they’ll probably be together for the next few years as they make it up the Pirates’ organization.

The Pirates have typically sent their over-slot high school arms to extended Spring Training, followed by a trip to State College for their first pro season. The next year those players go to West Virginia, where they get used to pitching in a full season league. We haven’t seen much beyond that, since the first big prep class from 2009 will be making their way to Bradenton this year. If Holmes and Burnette follow that same path, they’re looking to be on the same team for the next three years at least.

Both pitchers have the talent and the potential to eventually play together on another team: the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Jake Burnette

That was apparent yesterday during their Spring debuts. Burnette was throwing his fastball 90-93 MPH. His fastball was live and his curveball looked good. Holmes was a similar story. His fastball was hitting the low-90s, topping out at 92, and his curve, which sat in the low-to-mid 70s, had good break.

“Couldn’t have been more pleased,” Pirates pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell said of the outings. “First outing of Spring Training, two high school [draft picks] from last year getting their first taste of Spring Training, getting their feet wet. Very poised. That was the biggest thing for me, what I saw of them, they were poised, under control, didn’t try to do too much. They showed a very high maturity level for their age.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing was the velocity, with both guys hitting the low-90s on a consistent basis.

“Those gun readings kind of surprise me a little bit, because their deliveries were effortless, very smooth, and not trying to over-throw,” Mitchell said.

Both pitchers are very tall and lean. Burnette looks like he’s added some muscle over the off-season. The combination of tall, lean pitchers with effortless deliveries usually results in the words “projectable frames”.

“They’re still growing,” Mitchell said. “So I see them both getting bigger, stronger. And with those changes they’ve got to get used to those changes with their body. And we’ll adjust with them. But yeah, you can look at those guys and you can dream four of five years down the road and have a pretty nice picture painted.”

The Pirates have made some minor adjustments with each pitcher. They worked on smoothing out Burnette’s delivery so that it’s not so jerky. It’s not 100 percent yet, but Burnette feels good about the progress.

“I felt really good with it today,” Burnette said of his delivery after his start on Tuesday. “I feel just relaxed out there. I’m smooth, I’m not trying too hard, it feels really good.”

For the most part there aren’t major changes for either guy. The Pirates drafted both players and paid them over-slot bonuses for a reason. For the most part they throw the guys out there and let them show why they were taken with high picks, with some minor instruction along the way.

“The way they go about things, and teaching things, it’s great,” Holmes said on the approach from the coaching staff. “They’re great the way they’re presenting information and what they want you to do.”

The most important thing for each player in 2012 is getting adjusted to the pro-life. In high school they pitched once a week. In the pros they will have to get used to a five-day routine, with throwing programs, bullpens, PFPs, and then pitching every five days.

The Pirates are in a good situation, pitching-wise. They’ve got top prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon set to start the year in high-A Bradenton. Both pitchers could be pitching together in the majors by July 2014. That allows the Pirates to take their time with some of the prep pitchers. While you can dream on the potential of Holmes and Burnette, the Pirates don’t have to rush either player. They can take their time with the development process, maximizing the potential of both pitchers.

That of course will likely mean that we’ll see the typical routine for both guys: State College in 2012, West Virginia in 2013, and Bradenton in 2014. Of course, seeing Burnette and Holmes together isn’t anything new. It’s something you see every day here at Pirate City.

  • What is going on w/ the 2009 guys like Von Rosenberg, for example?  Loved the article Tim.  

  • Great story Tim….i like both of these picks especially holmes….I think he could end up in our top ten in 2014…

  • Nice story on both pitchers Tim.  It is nice to see all the potental coming up.