Clay Holmes was my third choice to write about last week for MiLB.com, a fact that stands more as a testament to the amount of interesting talent on the State College Spikes than Holmes’ ability on the field. (For the record, my first two choices were Luis Heredia, who was pitching and therefore unavailable the day I went down to Lowell to get my interview done, and Tyler Gaffney, whose unavailability I only found out about when manager Dave Turgeon happened to ask why I was lurking around the dugout.)
How remarkable has the 19-year-old from Slocomb, Alabama, been this season? He has started nine games. In SEVEN of those, he has pitched at least five innings, allowed no runs, and three or fewer hits. In one other start, he went 4.2 innings and allowed one run on two hits. Three of the four earned runs he has allowed this season came in one start, against Batavia on July 2. He has not allowed an earned run in 20 innings on the road. It’s been a very fine year so far.
Holmes came off as a quiet young man, but he certainly gave me everything I needed. In our brief chat, we talked about his success in school, what he learned from his one bad start this season, and the biggest challenge he currently faces.
I was reading that you had a decision to make after you were drafted, as far as your commitment to Auburn went. Was that a difficult decision to make to pass that up and come to play for the Pirates?
This is what I wanted to do. I wanted to come play pro ball. Of course there was a price there, and as long as that worked out this is what I always wanted to do, so I was blessed with the Pirates, many things worked out, so this is where I’m at and I’m glad to be here.
I read that you were also a pretty good student. Is it true that you were the valedictorian of your class?
How many kids in your class?
Right around 100. Somewhere around there.
What were your favorite subjects in school?
Probably math and science. Those were kind of my stronger areas and I still enjoy them now.
Does stuff like that, that success in school, that intelligence, does that help you on the field at all?
I think it does. I always seem competitive, no matter what it comes to, I think, and I guess that carried over in the classroom. It translates both ways, the competitive nature of me. I wanted to do well in school and on the field, and I was blessed to be able to do good in both.
Does it work against you in any way?
Not really. I was able to manage my time pretty well, so everything worked out. I guess I had a few offers there, so I guess it gave me more benefit than anything.
You signed late last year, so you ended up going a whole year without actually pitching?
I finished my high school year and didn’t really pitch again until instructs, the whole summer really.
Was it tough to go that length of time without getting on the mound during a game and being competitive?
Yeah, I missed it. I enjoy getting on the mound and competing. Getting the whole summer off, that was the first time I did that in a long time. It was different, but I had some things I had to take care of before I could do that.
During that time, what were you working on to get yourself ready to pitch?
Actually, I took summer classes there at Auburn, so I was at Auburn and I was able to do some stuff baseball-wise there with Auburn and I was taking classes there. I guess as far as getting myself ready to pitch, I was working on baseball but I was taking classes too, so I was kind of doing both.
Is that something you’re going to go back and do after you’re done, or while you’re playing do you see yourself taking classes?
It’s a possibility. My plan would be more of a hobby kind of thing. I wouldn’t necessarily stress myself over it. It’s something I enjoy and I think I could benefit from it, so it’s definitely a possibility.
On the field, what’s your repertoire consist of right now?
I’m throwing a fastball, a changeup, and a curveball.
Has that changed at all since you were drafted?
No, it’s about the same. Little more inches on my changeup, that’s come a long ways, but other than that it’s about the same.
You’ve only had one start, really, where the numbers weren’t good, your third pro start against Batavia. What went wrong with that start and what did you take away from it?
One thing I’ve been working on a lot this year is using my fastball and really competing with it, using that aggressive mentality and just attacking hitters. Throwing my fastball in there and getting hit with that. I’d say that outing, my mentality wasn’t as good as what it should have been and what I’ve come to now. So that was the part, I guess, that was missing in that outing, and led to some walks and some other things that got my pitch count high where the outing wasn’t successful.
Is that a good thing for you to go through sometimes, you think, where you struggle like that?
Definitely, I think I learned a lot from it. That was a big teaching point, just how I need to prepare myself every outing to go and bring that same mentality and mindset every game, to be more consistent with that. It was a big teaching point for me.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’re facing at this point? The thing that you’re trying to improve on the most?
Probably just being consistent with that, really using my fastball, getting outs with it. Learning how to get outs with my fastball. Right now that’s what I’m working on. Got a lot of decent fastball hitters in this league, so using my fastball, getting ahead with it, being aggressive with it in early counts and getting outs and getting ahead with batters.