Independent Baseball Insider by Bob Wirz, Vol. 12, No. 21, July 24, 2014
John Holdzkom (pictured) is a giant of a man at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, so if he ever stands on a major league pitcher’s mound he will be easy to remember, even before he unleashes one of his 95 mile per hour or better fastballs.
The major leagues seemed like a long shot as recently as early this season when the 26-year-old native Californian was still working out of the Amarillo (TX) Sox bullpen in American Association games, but it appears very likely to happen at some point for the right-hander now that his appearances come in relief for the Indianapolis Indians, Pittsburgh’s top farm club.
It would be the completion of a second life for Holdzkom, who frittered away the $210,000 bonus he received as the New York Mets’ fourth round draft choice in 2006, then had to endure nearly three years of idleness as he recovered from Tommy John (elbow) surgery and scanned the baseball world for a new opportunity.
“When I think about where I started (2014), it is pretty cool” to be one step from the major leagues today, he told me by telephone while waiting for a midweek day game to start this week. “I’m thankful I was able to learn my lesson” from his professional start at the age of 18 when, by his admission in previous media reports, he let the bonus money slip away through various forms of teen-aged frivolity.
While pitching at Amarillo one year ago (2-3, two saves, 3.50) and still wallowing in career-long control problems (31 walks in 36 innings over 34 games) plus a short late-season run in the American Association with Sioux City, IA, Holdzkom started finding his way. “I was able to learn about myself as a pitcher,” he said, because “I didn’t have 10 people (within a major league organization making suggestions). I found out it was best to have a little freedom.”
After a short second wintertime baseball stint in Australia and a rapid series of transactions in which Sioux City traded him to Sioux Falls, SD, being released, and signing with San Angelo, TX (United League) the big guy was traded back to Bobby Brown’s Amarillo club.
“You could see it (better focus) in his eyes,” said Amarillo Manager Bobby Brown of the transition from last year to this spring. “He challenges hitters in the strike zone.” Brown believes some credit for the development belongs to 2013 pitching coach Freddy Flores (now at Fargo, ND), and he describes the 2014 version of Holdzkom as owning “a smooth delivery. His pitches get on top of you.”
He made only nine appearances for the Sox early this season, walking two in 7.2 innings (1.17 ERA), with Pittsburgh scout Mal Fichman on hand to see two of the outings in Sioux Falls in which he reported that Holdzkom’s two-seam fastball was 94-96, his four seamer 94-97 and “touched 98-99”. That was enough for Tyrone Brooks, the Pirates’ director of player personnel, to buy Holdzkom’s contract. After six innings in Class AA (Altoona, PA) in which he allowed only one hit and two walks, no runs and struck out 10 came the quick promotion to Indianapolis.
Holdzkom collected relief wins his first two times out in Triple-A when he was touched for only one more hit and another walk in four innings, then had what he called a “hiccup” appearance of three runs in one-third of an inning. “That (hiccup) was probably a good thing,” he admits today. “It was needed to wake me up, and let me know every single time (I need) to concentrate.”
Holdzkom had walked 107 hitters in 134 innings in affiliated baseball in the Mets and Cincinnati farm systems prior to landing in Indy competition. He admits to being “unsure” of himself, but that appears to be a thing of the past.
(Fans may subscribe at newly-reduced rates to this Independent Baseball Insider column, which will be published 36 times in 2014, at www.WirzandAssociates.com. Bob Wirz provides supplemental stories about Independent Baseball on his blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball experience with Kansas City and as chief spokesman for two Commissioners, and lives in Stratford, CT.)