UC Irvine's Trenton Denholm Alters Pitch Mix Ahead Of 2021 Draft
When last year’s college baseball season ended prematurely, it left a lot of young players wondering what might be next, Trenton Denholm included.
The 21-year-old righthander departed the California Irvine campus last March with 23.2 innings under his belt. Denholm had entered the season a highly-touted draft prospect and performed well in his short sample, posting a 2.28 ERA with 25 strikeouts over his four starts. Back at home in El Dorado Hills, Calif., he did the best he could to stay in shape and be prepared for potential workouts, showcases, or any other opportunities.
“There was a ton of uncertainty around the draft, hearing different things every week of what possibilities could happen,” Denholm said. “You tried not to think about it too much, just stay ready and do what you can and whatever happens, happens, whether there are workouts or whatever it might be. I tried not to worry about it too much and just control what I could control.”
Though the outcome of the five-round 2020 draft was out of his control, the expectations built as it approached and Denholm prepared for what he believed to be inevitable.
“There was a pretty big handful of teams (interested) and I thought it was a pretty sure bet that I was going to start my professional career,” said Denholm, the No. 146-ranked draft prospect. “I’d gotten calls in the later rounds and stuff, but at that point it was basically all underslot deals, and I decided to come back to school.”
Following the selection process, Denholm briefly took a break from throwing before heading to Sacramento to work through a two-month performance training program before returning to campus. Seven starts into his season this year, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound righty knows the draft is once again approaching, but believes that what he learned last year has helped him be prepared for whatever might come.
“It’s definitely in the back of my head always,” Denholm said of the experience. “Knowing teams might pass on you, especially after the stuff that you hear about yourself right before the draft, and the disappointment that goes with that. I keep that with me but I’ve also definitely learned not to worry about those kinds of things, the uncontrollable things. I try to be more open-minded and keep less stress.”
Helping him find success this season is Denholm’s fastball-curveball-changeup combination, following the abandonment of a slider he tested out last year.
“I tried to throw a slider in the middle of last season, while we were playing, and I just decided it was best to focus on one and get one better, than have two average pitches,” Denholm said. “And the curveball is definitely better. I have to trust it a little more but the action on it is better, the velocity on it is better, so just getting it in the zone more will make a big difference.”
Running through a scouting report on himself using a form previously utilized by Major League Baseball’s scouting bureau, the pitch Denholm gave his highest grade to was his changeup, a weapon he’s found consistency with over an extended period.
“Even since high school I’ve always had a good changeup; good feel for it,” he said. “Since I was young, I’ve always been taught to have a good changeup, and that it can be your best pitch. So I’ve always had it. I’ve had times I guess once or twice where I’ve struggled with it and I’ve had to make some minor adjustments but can get back to the basics of it.
“I like the mix it creates, and the thinking that it looks like a fastball. And being able to throw it in any count to keep guys off balance. … My favorite (reaction) is definitely just the straight up out in front with a big swing and miss.”
Denholm’s sustained success with his pitch mix has been at least in part due to his feel for filling up the zone, along with a sense of self-awareness for what works and what the righthander is capable of.
“The most important thing for me is to attack the hitter,” Denholm said. “You’ve got to put the pressure on them to perform. Putting pressure on the hitter and being aggressive in the zone leads to a lot of benefits from my side, whether it be quick outs or whatever it might be. But that’s always been my game plan, to attack and put pressure on.
“And for my own success, I don’t think velo is the most important thing. My game relies on my command and mixing, but of course it’s always in the back of your head you want to throw harder. Whether you throw 90 or you throw 100, you’re always trying to improve on it. But I know that’s not necessarily my game.”
Building on his game each week, and set to graduate with a degree in education in June, Denholm doesn’t know for certain what his future holds, but he’s appreciative just to have another shot to prepare for it.
“Knowing that we didn’t get to play games for about a year almost, we realize we’re all just lucky, and grateful to play our games every week,” he said.