The Rockies need a shortstop.
Trevor Story has given away his purple gear, and he’s not coming back — only something unprecedented could force his return to Coors Field on a one-year deal. Carlos Correa is clearly not signing with the Colorado Rockies, who would never pay his contract anyway. In other words, the shortstop market has grown thin. Still, the Rockies need a shortstop — a good one — who is also inexpensive.
I have thought a lot about a mailbag, where Nick Groke explained the situation like this:
If the Rockies need a shortstop, why not Garrett Hampson? — Andrew B.
Fair question. Hampson was a shortstop at Long Beach State. Another shortstop from Long Beach State was a good defender at Coors Field, too. His name is Troy Tulowitzki. If Hampson and Tulowitzki were comparable in college, they aren’t in the majors. The game is too fast, and minor differences mean too much, especially in close games. His range is not the same as Tulo’s. There is usually an infield play or two every game that can swing the outcome. And that play, more often than not, involves the shortstop. Hampson can make most of those plays. The ones he can’t will cost them.
Can Hampson play shortstop for the Rockies? Absolutely. Can they be a playoff team with him playing most of their games at shortstop? Probably not. That’s why he’s a utility player now, with most of his reps in center field. That’s why the Rockies keep signing Chris Owings. That’s why they need to sign a free agent shortstop who can field those one or two plays that decide games.
For Groke, the Rockies’ need to get an effective defensive shortstop is pressing. I agree with the sentiment, but I’m hoping for a solution that does not involve Chris Owings. (To the best of my knowledge, the Rockies have not yet singed him to an MiLB contract.) While Skyler Timmins has explored the possibility of Ryan McMahon moving to short, I just don’t see that the Rockies moving their Gold-Glove-nominated third baseman to short.
According to the MLB Transactions page, the Rockies completed three minor league signings on December 15, 2021:
Of particular interest is the middle item: The Rockies signed shortstop Kyle Holder to an MiLB contract. Holder has the potential to be the inexpensive-yet-effective shortstop the Rockies need while waiting on Ezequiel Tovar, the shortstop of the future. Let’s consider the possibilities.
Look, I Don’t Follow the Yankees. Who Is This Guy?
Holder, who bats left and throws right, was the Yankee’s 2015 first-round draft pick, the 30th selection overall. He was considered the best defensive draft prospect in the draft, and received a $1.8M signing bonus. Prior to that, he played for the University of San Diego.
Fun fact? He and Connor Joe were both on the 2014 Toreros baseball team.
Despite his defensive wizardry, Holder struggled at the plate — like, really struggled. In 2020, the Yankees left Holder unprotected, and the Phillies selected him 11th overall in the Rule 5 draft. When January of 2021 rolled around, he was dealt to the Reds for cash considerations. After spring training ended, the Reds returned Holder to the Yankees — the shortstop slashed only .219/.359/.250 in 39 plate appearances. He then spent 2021 with the Yankees’ Triple-A team, the Scranton/Wilkes Barre RailRiders.
On November 7, Holder elected free agency, and on December 15, he signed an MiLB contract with the Rockies.
He’s not logged as many miles as Ashton Goudeau, but in the last two years, Kyle Holder has done some traveling.
Start with the Good News: Tell Me About the Defense
Reader, he is a very, very good shortstop.
As Brendan Kuty of NJ.com puts it:
Holder is considered one of the best defensive shortstops in the sport — not just the minor leagues — and he’s capable of playing second base and third base. But his bat hasn’t caught up.
Let’s hold off on that last sentence and watch some video first.
Another lesson to not hit it in the vicinity of Kyle Holder. @TrentonThunder @Yankees— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) August 25, 2019
️ https://t.co/BSNpk751Zg pic.twitter.com/ViZ7hrlD1X
No glove? No problem for Kyle Holder. You have to see this play to believe it. @TrentonThunder @Yankees— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) July 21, 2019
️: https://t.co/rkyctLfAHi pic.twitter.com/voQc6J0rOx
Last one, I promise:
.@Yankees prospect Kyle Holder flashes the leather for @TrentonThunder with this scoop to his right— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) July 21, 2019
️: https://t.co/nD40Rk9ePd pic.twitter.com/iwIgtEKfYo
Holder is also versatile. In the 78 games he played he 2021, he primarily played short though he also spent 28 games at second, eight at third, and one in left field.
I could absolutely see Holder fitting into an infield with McMahon, Rodgers, and Cron. When Groke remarks, “There is usually an infield play or two every game that can swing the outcome. And that play, more often than not, involves the shortstop,” Kyle Holder probably makes those plays.
That’s Pretty Awesome. Now, Tell Me About the Offense
It is significantly less good.
In 2021 while with the RailRiders, Holder slashed .216/.295/.276 in 287 plate appearances for an OPS of .571. He hit one home run and ten doubles. Offensively, he was just not good (and he had some injuries).
To be clear, he’s had stretches where he’s not bad. In the 2017 Arizona Fall League, he had an OPS of .878, and he’s been a successful hitter at various points in his MiLB career, but the overall trend is not promising. The only season in which he has produced above average offensively was 2019 in Double-A Trenton.
Because recent offensive highlights of Holder can be elusive, here he is last spring taking batting practice with the Reds:
The Yankees need a short-term shortstop. If they’ve decided to pass on Holder, despite his defensive skill, that’s a pretty good indicator that the bat is a problem. For a Rockies team desperate for power, Holder’s lack of offense offers a serious drawback.
Okay, Just Tell Me Something Cool
I can do that. Here’s Kyle Holder with Rookie the Bat Dog:
Is This Happening?
Maybe. I’ve become skeptical that the Rockies will sign a free-agent shortstop. The market is getting thin, and they’re not going to overpay for a marginal shortstop. If they want inexpensive defense, Kyle Holder can provide that — and for a lot less than Andrelton Simmons, whose 2021 salary was $10.5 million.
I could see Holder and Alan Trejo (and maybe Chris Owings) competing in spring training for the Rockies’ starting shortstop position. If the Rockies were committed to Trejo, surely they would have made that clear by now.
Of course, what that means is that Holder would be the new Tony Wolters — a defensive value with no offense. (Forgive my lack of hope, but I just don’t see Dave Magadan as the savant that will lead Holder out of the hitting wilderness.) If the Rockies do select Holder as their shortstop, then the revamp of the Rockies’ outfield will need to be extensive. Each of those players will need to rake in a way that has not been evident for some time.
Maybe Kyle Holder is 2022’s Greg Bird: Another former Yankee who never makes it out of Albuquerque. Maybe Kyle Holder is 2022’s Connor Joe: An overlooked player who finds his way in Colorado.
But I won’t be surprised if he’s the Rockies’ starting shortstop whenever we have baseball again.