The Trevor Holder Selection
Good morning from the Trop. I'll update everybody on the Manny watch a bit later this morning. In the meantime, consider this a brief detour; I'd meant to post this yesterday. I wrote a bit about Trevor Holder, the team's curious third-round pick. At the bottom, you'll see a Q&A (conducted on Friday) with acting GM Mike Rizzo.
On Tuesday night, more than a dozen men in the Washington Nationals' scouting department weighed the possibility of using their third-round pick on a college senior named Trevor Holder -- a possibility even Holder himself didn't think was conceivable. Baseball America hadn't even ranked the senior right-handed pitcher among its top 200 prospects. A year earlier, he'd been drafted in the tenth round. But he returned to the University of Georgia, started 15 games, went 7-5 with a 4.48 ERA. On Tuesday night, when the draft began with the first three rounds, Holder was watching the NBA Finals.
Here's what Holder didn't know:
He didn't know that acting GM Mike Rizzo, no longer under the influence of Jim Bowden, saw in the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Holder the exact pitching model he adores: A big body, a gritty competitor. (Brandon Webb and Micah Owings are archetypal Rizzo pitchers.) He didn't know that the Nationals had ranked him within their top 40 overall players. He didn't know that Washington's four crosscheckers, as well as Rizzo, each saw him as a future starting pitcher.
"We were pretty unanimous on him," Rizzo said. "The debate we had was to see if we could gamble and wait to the fourth round and get him. Every [scout that saw him] stamped the guy as a big-league starting pitcher. Everyone in our room. Big-league starting pitcher... And if you like a guy and he's a big league player, you just take him. Why gamble? Because I asked the question: I said, 'Are you gonna throw the pen if he gets taken before our pick comes up in the fourth round?' 'Yeah.' Well then let's take him. That's kind of the litmus test."
On one hand, Holder was a discount selection. Seniors, without the negotiating leverage of juniors or high schoolers, typically accept deals that include below-slot signing bonuses. And on Friday, Holder did just that. He agreed to a contract that included a $200,000 bonus; the previous year, pick Nos. 80-82 all signed for between $490,000 and $525,000.
On the other hand, however, Holder's selection reinforced the tenets of Washington's -- and Rizzo's -- scouting philosophy. Holder pitched in the best conference in the country. The Nationals, who'd tracked Holder since high school, had five years of information on him. Under Bowden, Washington often preferred the unknown -- high schoolers, players you could project as something great. Under Rizzo, Washington likes a track record. This year, seven of the team's first 10 picks were college players. In 2006, before Rizzo joined the organization, the team's first six picks were high schoolers.
"[Jim] liked those high-ceiling, toolsy guys," Rizzo said. "I like them, too. But I like them in a certain round."
Holder, before the draft, suspected Nationals might select him; the organization's Georgia-based scout, Eric Robinson, kept tabs on him with more frequency than anybody else in baseball. It's just that Holder didn't think he'd get picked so high.
"You know, I was just extremely excited, and shocked, honestly," Holder said. "I felt like I won the lottery, honestly. It was the coolest thing in the world. I just wasn't expected it at all. I had an idea I would go somewhat early, but no idea it would be in the third round."
Said ESPN.com's Keith Law, "Nobody saw him as that type of pick."
While finishing his junior year, Holder developed a minor case of shoulder tendinitis, that caused his draft stock to slip. Pre-injury, in 2008: The Nationals had him listed within their top-30 on the draft board. Post-injury: They removed Holder entirely, and he ended up getting picked by the Marlins in the 10th round -- an opportunity he turned down. Back in school as a senior, Holder had an uneven season. But Rizzo sounded OK with that. Good outings show a player's potential. Bad outings cast light on a player's make-up.
"I know what I'm getting out a guy with all that history," Rizzo said. "I've seen him when he's been bad, I've seen him when he's been great, and I've seen him when he's been somewhere in between."
Q: OK, I'm curious to hear about the Holder selection.
We had him in our top 30 last year. He hurt his shoulder. But we had him up high on the list early in the season, and he developed tendinitis in his shoulder two weeks before the draft. So we all backed off, and he went in the [tenth] round. But we did the medical research on him and all that stuff, we saw him pitch a lot this year, and we like the kid. He's up to 94 mph. He's got a good breaking ball. He's got a good sinker. He's a guy that we think has a chance to be a rotation starter. He's a big, physical guy from the best conference. We've got good history on the guy.
Q: How much history do you guys have?
Oh, it goes back five years. Since his high school days.
Q: So you feel like you know what you're getting with him?
Absolutely. We know him like the back of our hand, and we feel really comfortable with him.
Q: Now I'm guessing you didn't see him personally this year.
Q: And in the past?
I saw him last year. And we liked him last year, but we took him off our board because we didn't have enough information on his shoulder.
Q: So he was, just to be clear -- he was in your top 30 last year?
Yeah, on the preseason list before the injury that's where he was. He was in that top 30.
Q: Was he one of those guys where there was a lot of debate about? Because some people seem to think he's a lesser player.
We were pretty unanimous on him. We all saw him, we all liked him. The debate we had was to see if we could gamble and wait to the fourth round and get him, but he was a guy we really wanted. I always say this: Every [scout that saw him] stamped the guy as a big-league starting pitcher. Everyone in our room. Big-league starting pitcher. And the guy we were debating to take instead of Holder, I thought it wasn't a great gamble, because out of the two guys Holder, everyone knows better. He's been a good performer in the SEC. He's a college senior. People had seen him for too long and he'd had too much success to roll the dice. And if you like a guy and he's a big league player, you just take him. Why gamble? Because I asked the question: I said, 'Are you gonna throw the pen if he gets taken before our pick comes up in the fourth round?' 'Yeah.' Well then let's take him. That's kind of the litmus test.
Q: The other player you were considering instead of Holder, what was his profile?
He was a college junior. A pitcher. We decided that we liked this guy better. That's why Holder was ahead of this other guy on our board. We take 10 days to put the board together. It's a painstaking process, so we might as well honor it.
Q: Holder was high on your board. Like, top-40.
Q: This was your first draft without Jim [Bowden]. Were there any ways in which your own philosophy shined through more this year?
I think -- maybe in a very small way. But the last two drafts, I more or less ran both of those drafts, with Jim's input. Jim would always have his input. He liked those high-ceiling, toolsy guys. I like them, too. But I like them in a certain round. You know, I've had a lot of success in the draft with the way I like to draft.
Q: Does Holder kind of exemplify something you really like?
Yeah. He's everything I like in a pitcher. He's a big, physical guy. He's got a good arm. He's had good success in the best conference in the country. He played in the Cape and had success there. He just turned 22. And in the big scheme of things, once you get to the big leagues nobody cares about that [advanced age].
Q: I know you like those big pitchers. Is a guy's track record -- seeing him over numerous years -- also something you value? Kind of like, the more you see, the better your chances are?
Definitely. I know what I'm getting out a guy with all that history. I've seen him when he's been bad, I've seen him when he's been great, and I've seen him when he's been somewhere in between.
Q: And can you learn something about a guy when you see him get roughed up a bit?
Yeah. Exactly. There's no doubt about it. There's no doubt about it. Some of these pitchers, the first time they get roughed up they go into a hole, and those are guys you don't want to take -- believe me.
Q: What about all this emphasis on character? It seems like that's the second word out of everybody's mouth, talking about all these guys. Is there a new emphasis on this? Is it kind of like, Hey, we need to make sure we have the right guys in this organization?
There's no doubt. We didn't just start that, either. Since I took over, specifically, we're weeding out the guys we feel don't fit that. Because you know what? When we're ready to be really good -- not just be competitive -- but when we're ready to compete for championships, to do that you've got to have good-character people. They're not all choir boys. But when the game is on the line, what's gonna happen? Hustle plays. Alberto Gonzalez [a few days ago]. Zimmerman running hard down the line. Those are the plays that win games. You can't quantify them on a scoresheet. But they win you games like that. And when you don't do that -- when you walk a guy to start the ninth -- little things help you lose games.
Q: OK, so you interview a guy, he puts his best face on, says all the right things. But how do you know? How do you really know what he's like?
It's your instincts. It's been scouting for 28 years. And you know what, they can't lie to you on the field. That's when you see the real thing. The body language. What you do when nobody's watching -- except I'm watching. (Laughs.) Situations, I'll stick around. After a practice, and you're seeing a guy taking 20 minutes of taking double plays because he needs work on it. That type of thing.
Q: So when you're putting together the board, where does character come in?
It's equal to how fast you can throw the ball. How fast you can run. How far you can hit. It's one of the five things we look at when we judge a player.
Q: Going back to Holder, do you have a sense of who this guy is?
I think we know. He's a gritty performer. He's got the stuff. He's 90-94 with sink. He's not afraid. But beyond that, we've seen him battle. We've talked to him, we've talked to his coaches, we've talked to people he lived with in the Cape. He's a quality young man, and it's a big part of it.
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