Kyle Holder | SS
Holder is a San Diego native who played both baseball and basketball at University City High School. Baseball America did not rank him among the top 500 prospects for the 2012 draft. Holder went undrafted out of high school and headed to Grossmont College, a two-year school, and originally intended to play both sports before deciding to focus full-time on baseball.
During his lone season at Grossmont, Holder hit .405/.477/.446 with eleven walks and only four strikeouts in 38 games. Baseball America (subs. req’d) didn’t rank him among the top 500 prospects for the 2013 draft — Holder was draft-eligible because he went to a junior college, though he went undrafted again — but his big spring did catch the eye of several major Division I programs.
Holder was recruited by UNLV, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Riverside, among other schools, but chose to stay close to home and attend the University of San Diego. He took over as the Toreros starting shortstop and hit .295/.358/.403 with three home runs, 15 walks, and 16 strikeouts in 52 games in 2014. After the season Holder played with the Cotuit Kettleers in the prestigious Cape Cod League and hit .274/.398/.301 in 20 games.
As a junior this past spring, Holder broke out offensively, hitting .348/.418/.482 with four home runs and as many walks as strikeouts (19 each) in 55 games. Baseball America ranked him as the 38th best prospect in the 2015 draft and the Yankees grabbed him with their supplemental first round pick, No. 30 overall. That was the compensation pick for losing David Robertson to free agency. Holder signed quickly for $1.8M, slightly below the $1.91M slot value.
The Yankees assigned Holder to Short Season Staten Island this summer and he hit .213/.273/.253 (57 wRC+) in 56 games and 250 plate appearances while batting a nagging thumb injury that caused him to miss 20 games over the course of the season. The Yankees then had Holder take part in Instructional League in September and October.
Holder is a defense-first prospect. He’s ultra-athletic at 6-foot-1 and 185 lbs., and many reports dubbed him the best defensive player at any position in the draft and best defensive college shortstop in several years. Holder has good instincts, good range, a quick first step, soft hands, and a strong arm capable of making plays deep in the hole. He’s a no-doubt shortstop long-term who is an above-average defender right now with the potential to be more in the future.
At the plate, Holder is very much a work in progress. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be an above-average hitter because he lacks power — even the most optimistic folks project him to be a single-digit homer guy — despite having a bit of an uppercut swing. The Yankees have already gone to work with Holder, getting him to stand a bit more upright and do a better job of keeping his weight back. Here’s some video:
Offensively, Holder’s best attribute is his bat-to-ball skills from the left side of the plate. He makes contact fairly easily and knows the strike zone, so it’s a matter of improving the quality of his contact, not revamping his approach. Holder’s a good runner but doesn’t have big time speed. He’s going to be a bottom of the order hitter whose primary value comes in the field. And, for what it’s worth, Holder has drawn praise for his work ethic and leadership skills.
Although he’s a college player who spent the last two seasons at a major program, Holder has only been playing baseball full-time for three years, so he’s not really in position to shoot up the minor league ladder. The Yankees have a ton of shortstop prospects in the low minors, most notably Jorge Mateo, who will open 2016 with High-A Tampa. That likely means Holder will open next season with Low-A Charleston. The Yankees have a lot of lower level shortstop prospects and sorting out playing time will be a challenge the next year or two.
I thought the Holder pick was fine in the sense that he was a supplemental first round pick talent, but didn’t love it because he’s a pretty low upside player. His value is tied to his defense — and to be fair, by all accounts he’s a great defender at an up-the-middle position — and if some swing changes don’t take, his bat may top out in Single-A.
At the same time, Holder has a carrying tool in his defense, and that’s a big deal at a premium position. Brett Gardner was overlooked in the minors because appeared to lack offensive upside even though his center field glove gave him a chance to stick as a regular. (Then Gardner learned how to hit, so yeah.) Holder’s detractors have already dug in and he will be heavily scrutinized. I like to think I have an open mind, though there’s no doubt the development of Holder’s bat will be under the microscope going forward.