CARY, N.C.—In the first game of the regional here between UNC Wilmington and Elon, Bradley Holt vividly showed the difference between a prospect projected to go in the first 50 picks and one slotted closer to the 150th selection. Holt was the starting pitcher for the Seahawks and was matched up against Elon righthander Steven Hensley. Both pitchers have been their teams’ aces this season and entered the matchup with almost identical statistics:
Holt: 10-1, 3.30 ERA, 84.2 IP, 72 H, 31 ER, 30 BB, 92 SO
Hensley: 10-1, 3.34 ERA, 86.1 IP, 70 H, 32 ER, 37 BB, 97 SO
To continue with the comparison, only an inch separates the two as Hensley is listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds and Holt at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds. The two even started the game in similar fashion when Hensley allowed two runs on four singles in the bottom of the first inning and Holt did the exact same in the top of the second. After the second inning, however, the difference between Holt and Hensley became clear—and it was all in the fastball.
The fastball is Holt’s bread and butter, as he attacks hitters with a "here it is, try and hit it" mentality—and Elon couldn’t. In 8 2/3 innings, Holt threw 149 pitches, and 141 of them were fastballs. Interestingly, Elon could only scratch out six hits, but the Phoenix hitters struck out just three times. Holt’s fastball wasn’t necessarily missing bats, but it was certainly beating them. Holt is typically a strikeout pitcher as he has more strikeouts than innings this season, and he attributed today’s low total to an in-game adjustment. After throwing 67 pitches in the first three innings, Holt knew he needed to be more efficient.
"I started working the corners and letting them put the bat on the ball," he said. "Instead of trying to blow it by them, I wanted to allow my fielders to field and keep my pitch count down."
After throwing about 23 pitches and inning in the first three innings, Holt got down to just over 13 pitches per inning as he threw 82 pitches in the final 5 2/3 innings. Holt nearly completed the game but walked the final batter he faced on a full count with a 92 mph fastball.
In getting back to the comparison, Holt’s last fastball (along with the 13 others above 91 mph in the final frame) is what sets him apart and has him rising up draft boards. To make it easier to see, here is a chart displaying the first fastball velocity and peak velocity from the two pitchers in each inning they pitched.
NR—No reading because of radar gun issues
While Hensley and Holt started the game with similar velocities, it was evident that Hensley was starting to fade after the fourth inning while Holt’s velo remained steady. Hensley began to rely more on his four-pitch mix, while Holt threw fastball after fastball. Hensley finished with a pitch count of 120, while Holt was at 149.
This is not a knock on Hensley, as he is certainly a quality draft prospect (No. 157 on BA’s predraft rankings). For a few innings, he showed an above-average fastball, and he had an above-average changeup throughout. He also throws a slider that is average and a curveball that flashes average. With all that said, Hensley profiles best as a middle reliever who could dominate when allowed to pitch at full steam one time through the lineup.
Holt, on the other hand, showed only two changeups, which may have been average, and six sliders, most of which were merely spinning and below-average. Holt also walked six batters compared to Hensley’s one, but at the end of the day, the fastball was the difference maker.
And come next week, it could be the difference between a pitcher who could sneak into the first two rounds and one who waits until later in the draft.