The Other Tall, Hard-Throwing Pirates Pitcher Returning From Tommy John Surgery

Jameson Taillon became the biggest profile Tommy John case for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014, but another top pitching prospect also underwent the procedure. Clay Holmes went down a few weeks before Taillon, undergoing the surgery in mid-March. Holmes doesn’t have the same skills as Taillon, but he is a promising pitching prospect to follow, rating this year as the 17th best prospect in the system.

Just like Taillon, Holmes has been getting back on the mound recently, getting ready to return during the 2015 season. Since his surgery came before Taillon’s, his rehab also started earlier. While Taillon threw his first bullpen session last week, Holmes had been throwing bullpens as early as December. He took a break, then started throwing bullpens again two weeks ago. A video of a bullpen session from last week can be found at the bottom of this post. Holmes has been throwing his fastball so far, but is to the point where he will start adding changeups and then curveballs in his bullpen sessions.

“The way my arm feels now, I feel 100 percent. I can’t say that I am 100 percent, but I feel 100 percent,” Holmes said on his rehab progress. “Mentally, now, I’ve kind of checked out of the rehab stage and I’m getting ready for the season like I would any other year.”

The 2014 season was going to be something to look forward to from Holmes. He was going to be making the jump to the Bradenton rotation, while hoping to build off a strong second half from West Virginia in 2013. He started the 2013 season with a 5.08 ERA and a 44:47 K/BB ratio in 67.1 innings. He finished the season with a 2.79 ERA in 51.2 innings, along with a 46:22 K/BB ratio. It was a similar path that Nick Kingham took in 2012 — a poor first half, followed by a quietly dominant second half and an increase in command. Kingham followed that up with a breakout season in Bradenton in 2013. There was hope that Holmes would do the same in 2014.

The only thing that has changed with that hope is the year. Holmes could still follow-up on his success in West Virginia, and emerge as one of the top pitching prospects in the system. He’s a tall pitcher who was hitting 94-95 MPH with his fastball in 2013, and has a curveball that is an out pitch when he is commanding it well. The biggest issue he had in the past was his control and command, although Tommy John surgery may have helped him.

“It’s probably been one of the best learning experiences for my career,” Holmes said about the injury. “You don’t have to worry about media, numbers, you don’t have to worry about any of that. It’s kind of just a good time to focus on my body, what I have to do, my throwing. As far as my body and throwing aspect, I think I’m probably at my best now than I have been my whole career.”

As to how the injury helped him build towards better control, Holmes said he now has a better feel for his body, which is one of the biggest challenges for tall pitchers at a young age.

“Things start coming together, you get a better idea of how your body works, how you do things,” Holmes said. “Just get comfortable with who you are, and kind of have a better idea of what you’re doing. All of that combined leads to, ultimately, better command.”

Holmes should be ready at some point in April, and possibly Opening Day. However, coming off Tommy John surgery could mean his innings will be limited and more controlled in 2015. The Pirates also seem to want to save innings for late in the season, rather than shutting down a pitcher early.

“That’s one thing they have told me, they don’t want that to happen,” Holmes said about the possibility of an early shut-down. “So if anything, it’s going to be my start is late so I can finish the year.”

Neal Huntington talked about the rehab process for Holmes and how it compares to Jameson Taillon’s rehab process, despite Holmes having zero shot at the majors this year.

“Ideally it should mirror Jameson’s,” Huntington said. “We want to be conservative with him because these are guys that we think have a chance to be really good Major League pitchers for many years down the road. We want to be conservative with them. We want to have them cross each hurdle as they can and should. We can make up innings in Arizona. We can make up innings in instructional league if the season runs out on us. So we’ve got alternatives, and we’ll do what we need to do to build their innings the right way.”

One challenge for Holmes is that he’s Rule 5 eligible at the end of the 2015 season. He is a lock to be protected, due to the fact that the Pirates paid him a ninth-round record $1.2 M in the 2011 draft. He has also lived up to early expectations, adding velocity since being drafted, and showing promise with the results. The Pirates have protected pitchers who haven’t seen Double-A ball yet, with the most recent example being Joely Rodriguez after the 2013 season. For that reason, don’t expect Holmes to be aggressively pushed just because of his pending Rule 5 eligibility. That said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Pirates took it slow with him during the 2015 season, then gave him additional innings during the off-season in the Fall Instructional League and possibly the Arizona Fall League.

Holmes is a guy who should make the majors in the future, and has the upside of a middle of the rotation starter who can handle 200 innings a year. To get there, he is going to have to continue his success from the second half of the West Virginia season in 2013, continue to improve his command, and show that he can return from Tommy John surgery as good or better than he was before the injury.

  • Clay Holmes – a 22 year old pitcher with no control who has never thrown a pitch above A ball. He walks a ton of batters, does not strike many batters out, is old enough that he should have at least been at AA. He has a lot to prove this year.

    I know he was injured. But part of the reason there is no such thing as a pitching prospect is that they get hurt so often you can’t count on them.

    • So I guess we can assume you’re not related to Clay, right? Let’s pretend the glass is half full for a minute.

      He’ll turn 22 and if he didn’t miss last year, would probably be heading to AA this year. He’s been 2 years under age for each level he’s pitched at so far. He had a “Tale of Two Halves” the last season he pitched, as Tim documented. And the Pirates philosophy makes evaluating any P below AA almost impossible from outside the organization. You only hear about them “taking away” certain pitches on some of the high profile Ps, but I’m pretty sure it’s universal policy for them.

      I agree, he does have a lot to prove this year. I think that could be said about every single prospect in the Top 20 though.

  • Great to see him throwing. He is a minimum effort type pitcher, free and easy. Looks great!

  • Its kinda crazy at the amount of P talent NH has drafted over the years. It seems that on every level he has these young power RHP.

  • I remember meeting him a couple summers ago. He was sitting down the left field line during a GCL game. My son and nephew went onto the turf field to throw baseball so I talked with Holmes for awhile. He was rehabbing a different injury at the time and he was a very personable guy. He is an easy kid to root for a complete recovery and future success.

  • Tim: He looks very loose and the velocity looks a lot quicker than I would expect for a bullpen coming off of TJ. Only in his age 22 season and if he was throwing 94/95 prior to the surgery as a SP, it will be interesting to see what he does afterward. Another guy I was wondering about is Kyle McPherson who came up and helped the BP in 2012 throwing 26 innings with an ERA in the 2’s. He has missed almost all of the last two seasons, but will still be in his age 27 year. As I recall, he had excellent command and averaged 93 while topping out at 95/96.

    • McPherson is a minor league free agent right now

      • John: Thank you, but that tells me he has never recuperated.

        • We just don’t have an update on him because he hasn’t been around since the minor league season ended. He had arm surgery in late April and he estimated return time back then was Spring Training. He probably isn’t up to full speed yet, so I’d guess no team has seen him pitch. He was in the middle of recovering from Tommy John surgery when he got hurt again.

          • Again, thank you. I would take the chance and sign him to a minor league deal if, for nothing else, AAA depth and the support system to work himself back into shape. He worked his way through the system from being a #14 draft pick of ours the same year we took Tony Watson in Round #9. The Pirates have to be on the hook for the medical work, so why not?

            • They might be considering it, but if he hasn’t thrown full strength yet(which there’s a great chance he hasn’t) then there is no rush to sign him. You have to remember that he pitched two early season games in 2013, got crushed in them and hasn’t pitched again now 21 months later. That and two major surgeries on his throwing arm from a AAA pitcher doesn’t exactly make him a hot commodity in baseball. So there shouldn’t be a rush from anyone to sign him, there’s a chance his career could be done at this point. Remember that before his TJ surgery in 2013, he also missed two months in 2012 with a shoulder injury, then while trying to make up innings in winter ball, hurt his shoulder again, so he really had four arm injuries between March 2012 and April 2014 that cost him significant time.

    • I had the same thought about the arm action. Loose, and he gets on top of the ball very well.

      Really appreciate the video, John/Tim.

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