CLAY HOLMES, RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: March 27, 1993
Drafted: 9th Round, 272nd Overall, 2011
How Acquired: Draft
High School: Slocomb HS, AL
Agent: Jet Sports Management
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Baseball America rated Holmes the 140th best draft prospect. He moved up draft boards when his stuff improved in his junior year. Scouts liked his fastball, which ranged from 90-93. As a pro, his repertoire has changed from time to time. In 2016 alone, at different times he threw 2-seam and 4-seam fastballs, a curve, a slider/cutter and a change. By 2019, he was throwing a sinker that averaged 94-95, a curve and slider that he used heavily, and, rarely, a change. His delivery is high-effort and erratic, and has drawn concern from scouts. Holmes is an extreme groundball pitcher, but for many years didn’t miss many bats and also sometimes has control problems. His improvement in high school affected his college recruiting stock as well, getting him a scholarship to Auburn. He was valedictorian of his high school class and was expected to be very tough to sign, but the Pirates reached a deal with him on deadline day for a reported $1.2M, a record for the 9th round. It was too late for him to see action in the GCL.
Holmes went to State College and generally pitched very well. Opponents hit just .176 against him, he kept the ball on the ground, and he allowed just one HR. At one point he had three consecutive outings in which he allowed just one hit over five scoreless innings, then followed with an outing in which he allowed three hits over five scoreless innings. He had some outings, though, in which he had control meltdowns, and he didn’t strike out many hitters. He threw in the low 90s, usually topping out around 93. Baseball America ranked him the league’s 15th best prospect.
Holmes got off to a difficult start, but turned things around in the second half of the season. To some extent, his first half mirrored concerns about his 2012 numbers, as his walk and K rates were very bad. His season broke down like this:
Walks were easily Holmes’ biggest problem. He didn’t get hit hard; on the season as a whole, he allowed just a .240 average and .339 slugging average. He had a ground out to air out ratio of 1.85 and allowed just seven HRs. Scouting reports had his fastball in the low-90s with good downward tilt and his curve in the low-80s with good break. His change, as usual with low-minors prospects, still needs work.
Holmes’ 2013 season was arguably more encouraging than not, given his good second half. He was expected to need some work when he was drafted. He would have moved up to Bradenton in 2014, but unfortunately had Tommy John surgery during spring training.
Holmes didn’t make his debut until June 23. After three games in the GCL, he moved up to Bradenton where he made six more starts. His recovery seemed to be going very well, at least from the standpoint of pitching results, but after he went five innings in his first two Bradenton starts, the Pirates held him to 2-4 innings each in the last four. He didn’t pitch after August 15. The team has stated that he wasn’t hurt, that they were just being cautious, but their handling of him was much more restrictive than it has been with other pitchers returning from Tommy John.
The Pirates chose not to add Holmes to their 40-man roster and he went unselected in the Rule 5 draft. Although he hadn’t pitched much in high A, he went to Altoona and stayed in the rotation all year. His season was very similar to Cody Dickson’s in that he showed good stuff at times, but often struggled to throw strikes and ran up high pitch counts. Some of the struggles no doubt can be attributed to the fact that he missed all of 2014 and most of 2015, and was pitching in AA with little experience above the low minors. He did improve after the first three months, as opponents had much more trouble hitting him. Some of the improvement may have been attributable to him switching to a two-seam fastball and scrapping his curve in favor of a hybrid slider/cutter. His opponents’ OPS was .796 in April through June and .679 the rest of the way. The difference was mainly the result of Holmes giving up far fewer extra base hits. His walk rate actually increased, from 3.8 BB/9 to 4.9. His WHIP barely improved during the same time frames, from 1.49 to 1.47. Holmes had trouble with left-handed hitters, allowing them an .824 OPS and right-handed hitters just .681. On the season, he had an extremely high ground ball rate of 63%, close to the highest in the minors.
Before the season, the Pirates added Holmes to the 40-man roster. He spent the year in the rotation at Indianapolis. He had a good year overall, but continued to have control problems, including some flat-out control meltdowns. That also led to high pitch counts and some early exits. When he got the ball over, he continued to be an extreme groundball pitcher, getting grounders 61.5% of the time. He also increased his K rate and his velocity, which got into the upper-90s at times and topped out at 100. He gave up remarkably few extra base hits, just 15 total, with four HRs, leading to an opponents’ slugging average of just .300. He finished the season strongly, allowing very few hits in July and August, but also had more trouble with walks in those months; opponents had a batting line of 189/317/223. Left-handed hitters hit him slightly better than right-handed hitters. He didn’t get a September callup.
Holmes opened the season with the Pirates, although it wasn’t intended to be more than a short-term measure. He made one appearance, then joined the Indianapolis rotation. He pitched well in AAA, sometimes very well, but he also occasionally had control issues. He missed more bats than ever before, which is likely due to his current repertoire of fastball, cutter, curve and change. The Pirates called him up five more times, including a September callup, but he struggled in the majors because he couldn’t throw strikes. Holmes had one outstanding start, shutting out the Brewers over six innings on July 14. Other than that one game, he had an ERA of 8.85 and walked 21 batters in 20.1 IP in the majors. The low point came when, with the Pirates having no other pitchers, he blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the 15th inning, also against the Brewers, on August 24. Among other things, with the Brewers having no hitters left, Holmes walked a weak-hitting pitcher with two outs. The Pirates started using Holmes in relief in both AAA and the majors in mid-August. Whether that was a short- or long-term decision isn’t clear, but it didn’t help his control problems. He did continue to get ground balls at an extremely high rate.
The Pirates sent Holmes to Indianapolis at the start of the year to pitch in long relief. He pitched poorly there, struggling to throw strikes, but with their bullpen falling to pieces they called him up in May. He spent the rest of the season with the Pirates except for a brief rehab from a triceps injury. He also missed time with a quad injury. Holmes struggled in the majors, almost entirely due to control problems. He continued to get a lot of groundballs, with about a 60% rate, and opponents slugged only .366 against him, far below the NL average of .431. The walks were especially a problem against left-handed batters, who had a .420 OBP against him, along with an .812 OPS. Holmes held right-handed batters to a .693 OPS, but they still had a .345 OBP, which was 22 points above the league average. Holmes did do his best pitching the last two months, with a 3.93 ERA, but his control problems got even worse, with 17 walks in 18.1 IP. He continued to improve his K rate.
A lot of people around the Pirates thought Holmes might be the biggest beneficiary of a new management team, but they didn’t get to find out. After just one outing, he went on the injured list with a forearm strain and missed the rest of the season.
Holmes combines some extreme qualities, between the control problems and the very great difficulty hitters have elevating the ball against him. His increased ability to miss bats is a positive development, but throwing strikes remains a serious problem. Although he wasn’t eligible for arbitration, the Pirates non-tendered Holmes at the deadline. They signed him immediately afterward to a minor league deal with an invitation to major league spring training. He had an outstanding spring, allowing no runs in his ten appearances, and the Pirates added him back to the 40-man roster. He’ll be in the bullpen and, with no options left, could be with the team all year.
|2021: Major League Minimum
|Signing Bonus: $1,200,000
MiLB Debut: 2012
MLB Debut: 4/6/18
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2024
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/18/2016
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2017, 2018, 2019)
MLB Service Time: 2.028
|June 7, 2011: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 9th round, 272nd overall pick; signed on August 15.
November 18, 2016: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
December 2, 2020: Non-tendered by the Pittsburgh Pirates and became a free agent.
December 4, 2020: Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a minor league free agent.
April 1, 2021: Called up by the Pittsburgh Pirates.