At the start of the year, highly regarded New York Yankees prospect Kyle Holder laid out exactly what he had to do to make 2016 a successful season. He needed to work on his hitting and continue to play strong at shortstop while learning how to play second base as well. It’s safe to say he has lived up to those goals.
Holder scuffled at the plate while with the Staten Island Yankees in 2015 batting only .213 on the season. This year with the Charleston RiverDogs, Holder has raised his average to .277 with seven games to go in the regular season.
Holder attributes his improvement at the plate to his time spent with Yankees minor league hitting coordinator, James Rowson. “Our hitting coordinator James Rowson works a lot on just some simple mechanics stuff like load and separation, and short direct path to the ball and using left-center field, right-center field as a target and things like that,” Holder explained. He also credited RiverDogs hitting coach, Greg Colbrunn, with helping him develop a routine to become more consistent at the plate. “Just working day in and day out trying to find a routine to stick to whether if you’re going bad or good. I got a great hitting coach, Greg Colbrunn, he helps out a lot. He really hones in on having a routine, sticking it out whether you’re going good or going bad … Just learning how to hit, like the basis of hitting and what it takes to be successful and then just trying to implement little things in my swing, that’s going to help me be successful,” Holder said
In the field, Holder played strong defensively mostly at shortstop but he also saw time at second base for the first time, alternating with another Yankee prospect, Hoy Jun Park, between the two positions, as the Yankees have a glut of shortstop prospects. “I’ve been playing shortstop my whole life and this my first year playing in competitive games at second base. It was a little adjustment, but now it’s getting better. I like it over there and (defensive coach) Travis Chapman has helped out a ton and he’s great with that type of stuff. Getting reps and seeing reps everyday. Learning how to play both sides of the bag is fun,” Holder said.
It did take Holder a while to feel comfortable at second base as it didn’t come as naturally to him as shortstop. “It’s always kind of cool going from a position that you’re not really sure with and playing there for a couple of games and then going back to your natural position. You’re not thinking as much, kind of just going naturally whereas when I first started playing second, I was running through situations constantly in my head like, ‘gotta do this, gotta do that,’ because my instincts weren’t actually taking over, but now I’ve gotten the hang of it and it’s becoming a lot more natural to me,” Holder said.
Holder also talked about how his defense in the cornerstone of his game and about his approach out in the field, “Making the routine plays routine, not thinking too much. Going out there and keep getting those outs for my pitchers and keeping pitch counts down and stuff like that. I thrive on my defense and make that super important because I know that’s my plus, and I want to keep it like that.”
Holder also spoke about how he plans to keep climbing the ladder of the Yankees system, “Just getting bigger stronger flexible faster. All those things with the body and just continue improving on the offensive side and defensive side and keep seeing strides towards being better.”
Holder did have a couple of injuries (an undisclosed upper body injury and an ankle injury) that sidelined him during the season, which did limit his playing time. Holder has played in 81 games out of a possible 132 games as the RiverDogs close out the final week of the season. Despite that, Holder kept his head up and battled through. “I sat out for little less than a month, which kind hurt me a little bit coming back for a couple of days, it took away some timing at the plate and some rustiness in the field and stuff like that, but I’m all good to go now and back in it.”
The highlight of Holder’s season, and also the RiverDogs season, was clinching the first half division title guaranteeing playoff games in Charleston for the first time since 2005. “Clinching the first half was fun. Seeing the excitement in the coaches faces and seeing all of our fans that support us day and day out, getting to give them a playoff berth in I think 10 or 11 years I think. It was pretty special,” Holder said.
Off the field, Holder had to make an important adjustment being away from his hometown of San Diego for such a long stretch. “You have to grow up and take care of yourself. You don’t have parents, you don’t have siblings, family, girlfriend or anything like that to guide you along the way like in college, but I love it. I love being out on my own and just the grind, it’s fun.” he said.
Holder also talked about his middle infield teammate, Hoy Jun Park, who helped make up for lack of his support system from home. “We have fun; he’s my roommate too. We live together in a house. It’s fun; he’s a great kid from a different country and the progression he’s made not only just in the language barrier but just how it’s like in America and how to play in America and stuff like that. It’s been fun.”
As for 2017, Holder isn’t ready quite yet to look ahead. “I haven’t thought about that yet, to be honest. I’m taking it a day at a time here and trying to finish strong and ultimately win a championship for the RiverDogs this year. When it gets closer to then, I’ll probably start having some expectations, but obviously to continue getting better, trying to become more consistent at the plate and defense and stuff like that. Whatever happens, when that comes down the road – cross that bridge when it comes.”