Colin Holderman never made much noise in the minor leagues. A ninth-round draft pick out of college in 2016, Holderman’s path to the big leagues was anything but linear. Due to his Tommy John surgery in 2018 and the 2020 pandemic season, Holderman didn’t even reach to Double-A until 2021, his age-25 season.
It was at Double-A, though, that the young pitcher found something. He went on the IL after just his first two starts of the season for Binghamton, and when he returned in July, he was moved to the bullpen for the first time. It was there that his fastball, which only sat in the low 90s in 2019, suddenly played up to the mid-to-high 90s, even scraping triple digits at points. The aptly-named Holderman had found his home in the bullpen, where he put up a 2.12 ERA across 17.2 relief innings for the Rumble Ponies in the second half of the season.
Despite the impressive uptick in velocity and his solid season in Double-A, the Mets did not protect Holderman in the Rule 5 draft last offseason. Luckily for them, the draft was canceled due to the lockout, so Holderman remained in the organization.
People didn’t really start to take notice of Holderman until he was invited to major league spring training in 2022. Popping his high-90s fastball consistently, the reliever started turning heads for his velocity and his strong performances in televised spring training games. Finally, Holderman started garnering attention as an actual relief prospect.
The 26-year-old started the season at Triple-A and continued pitching well, earning his call up to the big leagues when Tylor Megill went down in May. Working mostly in low-leverage situations early on, Holderman looked good. He started his major league career by tossing eight consecutive scoreless innings, and earned his first MLB win on May 19. In June, though, Holderman suffered yet another arm injury, this time a shoulder impingement, and landed back on the shelf.
He returned to the big leagues on the fourth of July by tossing a scoreless inning against the Reds, and earned—yes—his first career hold. He would toss 5.1 more scoreless innings in July before he was surprisingly traded to the Pirates on July 23 for Daniel Vogelbach, who filled a much more important need for the Mets at the time.
In his time with the Mets, Holderman pitched to a nice 2.04 ERA across 17.2 innings pitched, and never allowed a homer. He handled some important innings for the team and helped them out in a time where their bullpen depth was really being tested.
Unfortunately, he did not find that same success in Pittsburgh. While Holderman did start his Pirates career much like he did his Mets career, with 7.1 scoreless frames, he wound up giving up runs in three of his last four appearances of the season, culminating in a five-run battering by the Braves on August 24th. He’d then be placed on the IL once again with shoulder discomfort, which ended his season and continued his concerning pattern of arm injuries.
Holderman finished with a 6.75 ERA for the Pirates and a 3.81 ERA on the season. Meanwhile, Daniel Vogelbach posted a 144 wRC+ in 183 PAs with the Mets over the last two months, and he remains under contract with the Mets at a very low $1.5 million team option.
Holderman was a steep price to pay for Vogelbach at the time, but it’s tough to have qualms about this trade in hindsight. Holderman didn’t show many signs that the top line numbers he was putting up were actually sustainable. In 28.3 innings this year at the MLB level, he only struck out just 20% of hitters and walked almost 12% of them. His control remains a problem, and while his fastball has that great velocity, it is fairly straight and fails to get whiffs. His slider is solid and does induce a good amount of whiffs, but without the ability get his fastball by hitters or develop another truly elite pitch, Holderman’s ceiling probably remains capped at more of a 6th/7th inning middle reliever than a late-inning setup guy or even a closer.
So the Mets sold high on a solid 17 innings from a late-20s, oft-injured reliever with a capped upside and netted an elite long-side platoon bat under cheap team control. That’s pretty good value to get out of a guy like Holderman, who just a few months prior was not even considered worthy of Rule 5 protection.
It’s easy to root for Holderman, who has battled numerous injuries and setbacks to get himself to where he is now, and figures to be an important part of the lowly Pirates’ bullpen next year. It would be a nice story for him to stay on the field and develop into a legitimate major league reliever, though the Pirates might not be the best team to get that out of him.