TRENTON– Kyle Holder is an old-school kind of Shortstop. Donning socks up to his knees, the only thing modern about Holder is that he wears batting gloves and an elbow guard at the plate. No compression sleeves, wristbands, or wrist tape. The same thing can be said about his game.
Back in the day, a Shortstop’s primary objective was to be the general of the infield, defense first, offense second. However, in today’s game, you see Shortstops like Manny Machado and Trevor Story blasting home runs left and right. It used to be a rarity to see shortstops hitting over 20 home runs; now it’s almost expected. Holder brings a nostalgic feel to the position as his defensive contributions outweigh his offensive.
“I think defense for me always came a little bit easier for me than offense.” Holder said.
“Defensively he’s a good as anybody we have in the organization,” Trenton Thunder manager Jay Bell said. “At shortstop or anywhere in the infield.”
That’s pretty high praise from someone who took home a Gold Glove in 1993 while playing Shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It’s pretty easy to make a comparison between the two players. Both defensive first shortstops, both wizards in the field. However, Bell says there is no comparison.
“He is far better than I ever was defensively, at least in the minor leagues,” Bell said. “I appreciate the comparison, shoot he’s way better than I ever was but again, he’s a guy that I’m extremely pleased with, and I have enjoyed watching his progression.”
Holder is in his second year of playing under Bell as Bell was the manager at High-A Tampa last year, but Holder sees Bell as more than his manager.
“He and I have a really strong relationship, and I can’t thank him and look up to him more than I already do,” Holder said. “He’s a role model for me, just that mentor that kind of gets me through the game when things are tough, he’s been a huge help for me so far in my career.”
Drafted with the 30th overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, Holder feels no weight on his shoulders as a first-round pick.
“I’d say my first half-season in Staten Island I felt a little pressure and didn’t know what to expect,” Holder said, “But I’ve kind of gotten past that and figured out how to go out there and play the game.”
Holder is in his first year playing at the Double-A level, making his full debut on July 5. It would’ve been earlier in the year had he not suffered a stress fracture in his back during Spring Training that kept him sidelined to start the year.
“Getting the chance to come up and play with these guys and to be part of the team is exciting,” Holder said. “Anytime you’re sidelined and not being able to play and having to watch baseball is pretty tough but I’m glad the rehab went well, and I’m just happy I’m healthy and back playing.”
Holder has been doing a pretty solid job so far for Trenton this season. In 76 at-bats, Holder is slashing .303/.353/.382 with 5 RBI’s and has a fielding percentage of 1.000 in 71 total chances (assists plus putouts plus errors).
While Holder still takes pride in his defense, his offensive numbers have been improving as the years have gone on.
When he made his pro debut in Staten Island in 2015, he sported a batting average of .213. The following season in Charleston, it was up to .290 and last year in Tampa, it was at .271, a slight decrease, but still a respectable average for someone in his third year of pro ball.
“Offensively he’s become a much better hitter,” Bell said. “He was not signed as an offensive player, he was signed as a defender, and yet he has done a phenomenal job offensively, he hits the ball to the gap, double, triple type of guy, gap-to-gap power hitter and he gives me an opportunity to put him in the lineup to beat the other team so its pretty nice.”
“I feel confident at the plate, I feel like I can do damage at the plate and I’ve just been working hard to be as consistent as possible and just go out and help my team in whatever way I can,” Holder said. “So I think each year I’ve developed as a hitter and kind of figured out what kind of hitter I am and now it’s just kind of going out and doing my best to perform and help the team win.”
Going back to that old-school type of player that Holder resembles, even in the minor leagues, while the main goal is developing as a player, Holder still brings that winning mentality to the table and doing whatever it takes to increase the win total, game-by-game.
“I’m trying to work to be the best well-rounded baseball player out there; I think everyone would say that,” Holder said. “But I’m just trying to go out to do whatever I can to help the team win, whether that’s a bunt, a hit & run, going to first to third on a base-hit to the outfield, making a diving play to save a run, things like that.”
“I’m just trying to become as well-rounded as possible,” he added.