With the 30th overall pick in the 2015 draft, the New York Yankees selected a player considered by many to be the best defensive prospect in the entire draft class. While Holder’s defense was considered elite, many evaluators questioned his ability to ever hit enough to become a big time major league prospect. Holder has struggled to dispel that reputation, as he struggled offensively over the early part of his professional career.
2019 was the first season where Holder produce above average offense for the level he was playing in. The Yankees invited him to the alternate training site in 2020, but he was once again left unprotected for the Rule-5 draft after the season where he was selected by the Phillies. The Phillies traded him to the Reds, but with the Rule-5 restrictions still in place he was offered back to the Yankees at the end of spring training. Holder has once again been at the Yankees alternate training site in Scranton this spring, but has yet to force the hand of the organization to earn a look at the major leagues.
2019 Stats (Double-A Trenton): 472 PA, .265/.336/.405, 9 HR, 13.8% K, 8.7% BB
2021 Stats (Spring Training): 37 PA, .219/.359/.250, 25% K, 18% BB
Prospect Rankings: Not Ranked
Nearing the end of spring training in 2018 it looked as if Kyle Holder had turned around the narrative on his offensive production. He had produced an .876 OPS over his last 41 games of the 2017 season, good for a 159 wRC+ in the Florida State League. Assigned to the Arizona Fall League, he received 50 plate appearances and again hit very well, producing an .878 OPS. Holder was able to carry that offensive momentum into the 2019 spring training when he produced a 1.147 OPS through 10 games before he was sidelined with a broken bone in his back.
When he returned later that season, he was almost immediately out of action again as the unexpected loss of his brother struck him and his family hard. He rejoined the team in June, but was only on the field for about a month before a hard collision at second base led to concussion like symptoms and another gap in playing time.
Come the start of 2019, Holder again could not get his bat going — but in early June that all changed. From June 11th to the end of the season, Holder posted a .296/.371/.437 line over the final 77 games. It was a great stride for a player in desperate need of production, but then came the pandemic and a year spent on the sidelines.
Now Holder will have to show he can hit at the Triple-A level. He is expected to remain in Scranton when the alternate training site wraps up, since the Yankees have been using him in a utility role during alternate training site games against the Phillies’ alt-site team. He has done this in the past, mainly during the 2017 season with High-A Tampa. Proving proficient at multiple positions could open the door to the majors as the Yankees explore their imperfect options.
The Yankees have already demonstrated that they are in the market for an upgrade with their middle infield depth. They have demoted Tyler Wade for a stretch, traded Thairo Estrada after he was designated for assignment, and brought in Rougned Odor who has been a below average hitter and defender in recent years.
Through his 2019 campaign and into spring training this year, Holder has demonstrated a better command of the strike zone, posting a career high walk rate in 2019 and then walking 18 percent of the time this spring. Several reports on the Yankees alternate training site games this spring have mentioned Holder getting walks and routinely getting on-base. If he can show that he’s made true progression in this area, he could find his way into a utility role with the Yankees at some point this year.
Kyle Holder has not panned out in the way that the Yankees would have hoped for a first round pick, but he is still in a position where he can contribute to the major league team in the future. Still considered an elite defender, can Holder find the offense that has shown up at times in his minor league career and push his way into the major leagues?