2016 Statistics: 88 games, .290/.323/.347, 13 2B, 1 HR, 8 SB, 93 wRC+
2016 Level/Roster Status: Low-A/Non-40
The Yankees earned some confused looks back in 2015 when they used their first round compensation pick on shortstop Kyle Holder out of the University of San Diego. Admittedly, this was their second pick overall since they had already drafted the more well-regarded James Kaprielian, but it was still a little odd to see. After all, this was the pick they received for letting reliable closer David Robertson sign with the White Sox.
The story on Holder was a classic shortstop tale. He was phenomenal on defense but could not really hit a lick at the plate. That ineffectiveness was partially because Holder was still relatively new to full-time baseball. He was a two-sport athlete playing basketball as well up until 2013, so he was very much a work in progress at bat when he was drafted.
There is no getting around the fact that last year was quite poor for Holder. Even in short-season ball in Staten Island, he was overmatched, batting a mere .213/.273/.253 with a 57 wRC+. The Yankees still held out hope though, feeling that the more time he spent working on his approach at the plate would lead to dividends in 2016.
Sure enough, the 22-year-old Holder had a far superior year in Charleston, even though he missed a little time here and there due to minor injuries. The 93 wRC+ might not seem overwhelming at first glance, but for a shortstop playing half his games in a pitcher’s park, it was just fine, especially considering where he was a year ago. Furthermore, Holder improved as the season went along and even finished the second half hitting .331/.369/.398 in 40 games. As a player whose offensive is built around contact, that is exactly what he needs to do to succeed.
Holder absolutely lives up to his reputation on defense, as he is a tremendous shortstop. MLB.com called him the best defensive player in the 2015 draft, as well as “the best defensive shortstop to come out of college baseball in years.” That is lofty praise, but it is well-deserved, as he can really pick it out there. Both Holder and scouts have cited the quick footwork that made his basketball abilities stand out as a major reason why Holder is so smooth at shortstop:
Traditional stats like him—he made just nine errors in 79 games (24 at second base). Advanced stats like him—he finished 2016 with 8.9 Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) by Baseball Prospectus measures. MLB.com graded his defense at a 65 on the 20-80 scale, which according to analyst Jim Callis, is much higher than they ever typically go for a prospect. The bottom line is that his defense alone is going to make him a strong candidate for the major leagues.
The Brendan Ryan comp was thrown around a lot when he was drafted, and it makes a lot of sense. Holder needs to find a way to hit just enough to even be a viable bench player and contributor. Ryan did that, and while his offense was anemic outside a few stretches with the Cardinals, he had a 10-year career. (Despite playing just 17 MLB games in 2016, Ryan’s defense is still respected enough that it would not be a stunner to see him add another year or two to his resume.)
Holder is understandably going to be overlooked in a suddenly loaded Yankees system up the middle that now includes Gleyber Torres, Jorge Mateo, and Tyler Wade, just to name a few shortstops. As the defensive specialist of the bunch though, Holder has a bright future, and he showed enough development with his bat in 2016 to make people realize that he could very well turn out to be a decent draft pick after all.
(video from June 2016)