By Jason Shetler
In the 2011 MLB Draft, the Pirates chose a pair of diamond in the rough starting pitchers. The first was Tyler Glasnow, who was taken in the fifth round, while the other was Clay Holmes, a ninth round selection. Upon being drafted, Glasnow had better velocity on the fastball than Holmes, and also had a curveball that was considered a plus pitch. The combination of an upper-90’s heater and a swing and miss curve helped Glasnow become the Pirates top pitching prospect. Holmes profiled more as a groundball pitcher. In his first two seasons of pro ball, 2012 with the State College Spikes and 2013 for the West Virginia Power, he posted a 3.18 ERA, along with a 57% groundball rate.
During Spring Training of 2014, Holmes experienced elbow discomfort and had to miss the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. He successfully recovered from the injury in 2015, and made nine rehab starts combined with the GCL Pirates and the Bradenton Marauders, posting a 2.48 ERA and a groundball rate of 58%. Altoona is where Holmes pitched all of 2016. In 26 starts for the Curve, he had an ERA of 4.22, but did put up a career best 62% groundball rate. This past offseason, Holmes was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. The Pirates however placed him on the 40-man roster prior to the Winter Meetings.
As I mentioned earlier, Holmes is a groundball pitcher, but what is now beginning to really stand out is the velocity on his fastball. In his third start of the season on Thursday for the Indianapolis Indians, he displayed perhaps the best fastball velocity of his minor league career, registering 96-97 mph and topping out at 99 mph, all while tossing six shutout innings versus the Durham Bulls. Prior to that outing, I never recalled him hitting 99 on the gun with the fastball. When I spoke with John Dreker of Pirates Prospects, he mentioned that Holmes has been throwing harder this year. The current velocity is a real significant spike compared to what it was before having Tommy John, which ranged from 90-93 mph. With the combination of added velocity and terrific sink on the fastball, Holmes would certainly be an intriguing option to have compete for a spot in the Pirates rotation in Spring Training next year.