Baseball America released their list of the top independent league players on Thursday, splitting it up between the top five signed and unsigned players. For the signed players, it’s no shock that John Holdzkom was ranked first. He made it all the way to the majors within months of pitching his last game in independent ball. A simple suggestion from his pitching coach this year turned him from a hard-thrower with no control, to a standout reliever that appeared in the playoffs for the Pirates.
Also on the list at #3 was Matt Nevarez, who pitched briefly for Altoona after signing in mid-August. He is currently pitching in winter ball and due to his previous experience in pro ball, Nevarez will become a free agent once the FA period begins. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates resign him for next year. The scouting report has him throwing 93-96 MPH with his fastball and possessing a cutter that is called “useful, with good late life”. Nevarez also has a change-up that is a good pitch at times, though he lacks consistency with it. In 6.2 innings with Altoona, he allowed three hits and struck out nine batters.
The other player listed is Chris Peacock, who is #5 on the unsigned list, but he recently signed with the Pirates. The scouting report has Peacock hitting 97 MPH with his fastball, which sits 92-95. It sounds like he will be a bullpen arm because his secondary pitches aren’t great and there are some questions with his control. The fastball speed alone makes him interesting, but he will have to develop his splitter and cutter/slider to get far in the system.
The scouting reports are up now and can be found here.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.
One thing about these independent league pitchers is that with the Pirates they will receive the best coaching they can get, the arm is what counts and all three of these guys seem to have good arms. Don’t they also have Rinku coming back this year after arm surgery.