The lanky, 6-2 Holland was taken in the 25th round of the 2006 draft as a product of the now defunct draft-and-follow system. Holland impressed Rangers brass at Wallace State Community College, earning a $200,000 signing bonus.
He made his pro debut in 2007, and immediately began tearing minor league hitters to shreds. Holland whiffed 11.1 batters per nine innings in 67 frames in the Short-Season Northwest League, issuing 2.8 BB/9 and posting a 3.29 FIP.
While Holland didn’t crack Baseball America’s list of Texas’ top 30 prospects before the 2008 season, he caught everyone’s attention by rocketing from Low-A to AA that year. In 150.2 combined IP, Holland punched out 9.4 batters per nine frames, walking just 2.4 per nine with a 2.64 FIP.
The scouting reports were every bit as promising as the stats. BA ranked Holland as the second-best talent in a deep Rangers farm system prior to 2009. They noted a gradual increase in velocity for the southpaw. He started the season sitting 89-93 MPH, but he was popping the radar gun in the mid-90’s during the regular season and touching the upper-90’s during the AA Texas League playoffs. Holland also had an above-average low-80’s changeup, a promising, if inconsistent, low-80’s slider and a curveball.
Holland was one the fast track for sure, but he was surprisingly in Texas by April of 2009 after just one start at the AAA level. He ended up tossing 138.1 innings for the Rangers, making 21 starts and 12 relief appearances.
At first blush, the results suggest that Holland shouldn’t have been anywhere near a major league mound. After all, his ERA was a macabre 6.12, and he was blasted for nearly 1.7 home runs per nine innings pitched. However, beneath that gory ERA, Holland showed a lot of promise in 2009.
He struck out 6.96 hitters per nine frames, while issuing a solid 3.06 BB/9. Unfortunately, Holland suffered from a .321 batting average on balls in play. He did give up his fair share of fly balls, posting a 41.5 GB% that was a few ticks below the 43-44% major league average. But even with fly ball tendencies, Holland’s homer rate was too high. His home run per fly ball rate was 14.9 percent. That was the fourth-highest rate among pitchers with at least 130 innings pitched. Expect that figure to regress more toward the 10-12% average in 2010.
Overall, Holland’s Expected Fielding Independent ERA (xFIP) was 4.38. The difference between his ERA and xFIP was among the largest in the majors in 2009.
Holland featured a four-pitch repertoire. He used his 92-93 MPH fastball often, tossing the pitch 70 percent of the time. Baseball America said that Holland’s “slightly across-the-body delivery and excellent extension give his fastball deception and life.” His Pitch F/X numbers bear that out, as Derek’s fastball tailed in toward lefty batters 8.8 inches more than a pitch thrown without spin (6.4 average for LHP). The precocious lefty supplemented his heat with 82 MPH sliders (thrown 12 percent), 84 MPH changeups (11 percent) and mid-70’s curveballs (7 percent).
Throwing his fastball with great frequency, Holland posted an 82% contact rate (80.5% MLB average). His percentage of contact within the zone was 89.6% (87.8% MLB average). Holland’s 7.4 swinging strike percentage was a little below the 7.8% average for starters.
When Holland gets more comfortable implementing his breaking stuff and changeup, it’s reasonable to expect those contacts rates to drop (fastballs have the highest contact of any pitch). His slider, in particular, showed promise with a high whiff rate. More sliders, curves and changeups could mean more free passes, but also more strikeouts.
As a 22 year-old with minimal experience past A-Ball, Holland managed to hold his own in the majors in most respects. The usual injury caveats with a young pitcher apply. But Holland has high-caliber stuff and a superb minor league track record, making him a nice sleeper pick for those willing to look past that ugly ERA.