In late September, I was able to attend an instructional league game in Miami between Marlins and Washington Nationals prospects. It truly was a great experience for everyone involved. One comment that really stuck with me from that day: “He has come back with fastball control hitting anywhere from 95-99, and we expect him to throw harder in the future.”
That quote is from Marlins VP of Player Development and Scouting Gary Denbo, a top executive under new franchise ownership. The player he’s talking about is Jordan Holloway.
The starting pitcher was drafted by the Marlins out of a Colorado high school in the late rounds in 2014. Even Elon Musk would be impressed by the firepower of this kid’s rocket arm, hitting 96 mph on the gun as a 17-year-old. A 60 grade fastball with the potential to get better to go along with a plus curveball? Sign me up.
Holloway was destined for some growing pains in pro ball due to lack of pedigree, but initially weathered that storm nicely. He posted a 3.39 ERA across two levels in 2015, though the peripherals were a concern (1.43 WHIP, 1.05 K/BB). The 2016 season was more of a step back with even more baserunners allowed and a 5.3 BB/9. Changing his delivery was leading to a complete loss of control and confidence.
Optimistic entering the following season, Holloway would face a serious obstacle. He landed on the disabled list with right elbow discomfort after making only 11 starts. Next thing you heard was the dreaded news: he needed Tommy John surgery. Another Marlins pitching prospect, Braxton Garrett, had just received the same diagnosis. That represented a crushing blow to the thin farm system.
After a successful year of rehab, Holloway was itching to get back on the mound. He squeezed in 7 2⁄3 innings during the 2018 regular season without allowing an earned run.
The 22-year-old continued his breakout in instructional league this past fall. Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball observed him there, dialing it up to 98 on the fastball while sitting in mid-90s with ease. He also showcased a sharp, biting curveball that’s got plus potential.
Like every MLB team, the Marlins were faced with tough roster decisions in advance of the Rule 5 Draft. Tons of promising prospects and not enough spaces. The front office traded left-hander Dillon Peters—himself once a highly regarded pitcher—to the Angels, and designated for assignment Derek Dietrich, their longest-tenured major leaguer. But they made Holloway a priority, protecting him on the 40-man roster despite zero experience above the Low-A level.
Through five seasons in the Marlins organization, Holloway has never before participated in an extended Q&A with any South Florida media outlet. Fish Stripes is thrilled to finally change that after conversations with him earlier this week.
Here’s a closer look at a fierce competitor with a bright future in this game.
Being a 20th-round pick in 2014, Miami was quick to offer a large over-slot bonus to get you to sign. How encouraging was it to see those efforts towards you?
It was really encouraging. At that point in the draft, I didn’t even think I’d be drafted and kind of accepted I’d go to college and try my best to make it from there. Then my agent called. I think it was a Sunday, and I was just watching a movie with my family and he said the Marlins were going to go ahead and draft me in the 20th for money that only me and him talked about. I was going to live out my dream at 17, and not many people get to experience that.
Watching tape, I was seeing you playing with your delivery every year till 2017 when things seemed to fall into place. Did lack of results lead to constant changing?
Not being as consistent as I wanted to be and being a student of the game kind of led me down a path to where I was trying to take too much from too many people. It took me a while to understand my body a little better and to take just bits and pieces from people, along with help from my coordinators that things would eventually fall into place. It really took me getting Tommy John to give me a chance to break down what I needed to do to be more consistent. Leading up to that, I was really just starting to come into my body.
Tommy John came at a time when you were pitching the best baseball of your career. How tough was it to gain a positive mindset after the immediate diagnosis?
In the beginning, it was definitely tough. Obviously I went down, and I was sad about it because of where I was and how I was doing. In the end, though, I realized it was a blessing in disguise. I did have a year essentially where I could go 1-on-1 with coaches, coordinators, and all the people above me that could help go in more of a positive direction instead of just thinking negative.
I thought it was going to be a lot worse, but wrapping up and looking back at it now, I realize I got the opportunity to further myself and my growth. I could go into more of a positive direction because I had the alone time with coaches—not facing live talent gave me a chance to face myself. Just watching video over and over trying to figure out how to turn my body into a healthy outlet to throw more strikes and be more of a pitcher.
Having Braxton Garrett in nearly the identical rehab timeline with you must have been helpful for the both of you. How was that process of coming back?
It was amazing. We actually moved in together during our Tommy John rehab, and now we are living together again this offseason here in Florida. Me and Braxton have formed a bond that probably can’t be broken because of being hurt. We’re best friends now. It was a lot easier to go through the long haul with someone you’ve grown close to because they’re going through the same stuff. They can help you when you’re down and vice versa...It was definitely a blessing to have him and a couple other guys for the bad days, and even more for the good days.
Rehab seemed to have gone tremendously with fastball already maxing out near triple digits. What do you think led to such a successful recovery?
I think what really led to it was my team, the staff, my physical therapist...they were all great. We sat down and figured out what I needed to do to come back strong and healthy, and we did it every single day. They were on us to be doing things every single day, ‘cuz it does get monotonous, but they wanna make sure you’re doing things right. On the other side of that, they always had your back when you had questions or wanted to watch video. They helped me get to a consistent, healthy delivery—healthy everything, really—how to act on the off the field to get as strong as I can be.
Back on the field in late June, how was it to go out and throw against competition again?
Total bliss. I felt like I was able to go out and do what I was put on this Earth to do again. It’s hard to put into words, honestly. When I got back on the mound, it felt like home, like it was what I was meant to do. It was amazing.
Obviously, scouts and fans alike are in love with your fastball. But in my eyes, your curve could be your best pitch, with elite level spin rates and keeping hitters off balance. What do you believe is your best out pitch?
It still has to be my fastball. I love my curveball and I love that I’ve been able to formulate a changeup as well. I’ve worked my butt off to get to a point where I can throw my offspeed pitches in and out of the zone when I want to, and I think that’s helped my curveball. My ability to now throw strikes on the top and bottom of the zone has helped my curveball tremendously. All in all, I think all of my pitches help each other.
Scouts consider command of your cutter and changeup as a weakness. What makes you believe you can improve?
It’s just based off consistency, knowing every start isn’t gonna be a banger. You’re not always gonna throw a pitch where you want, when you want...Figuring out my body and getting to the same consistent spot in my delivery are the biggest things.
Miami’s front office has been glowing every time I’ve brought your name up this year, and the fans are starting to ride the wave. What would you like to tell Marlins fans about what to expect from you going forward?
Just a kid who loves to play baseball who will play every game like his last. I like to win. I don’t think anyone necessarily likes to lose, but the group of kids I’m coming up with have a lot of drive. We’re very talented. With just a little bit of patience, we will be as good as everybody else in the league. We just have to figure it out a little bit, keep driving every single day, and trusting the process. We are here to win.
Looking forward to 2019: besides building innings, what are some of your goals?
Staying healthy, first and foremost. I’m most excited to be in a clubhouse again and forming a bond with teammates again, to be around baseball again for a whole entire year. My goal obviously is to make the big leagues, but I realize you also have to make small goals. I wanna win and just be a part of everything a baseball player does.
This could be the best arm in organization, and I’m honestly taken aback by how humble he is. With possibly three plus pitches developing, Jordan Holloway has been grinding to become a complete player. He is set to climb rapidly on Marlins top prospect lists.
His attitude is infectious and his comeback is motivating others within the farm system. Right-hander Matt Givin, who also required Tommy John after suffering a torn UCL, credits Holloway for taking him “under his wing” during the recovery process.
“[Holloway] loves baseball and wants to get better every day and it’s apparent,” Givin says.
I feel blessed to bring this story to you, Marlins fans. I also want to thank Jordan for doing his interview twice in three days when faced with some technical issues.
This kid will be special.
Follow Jordan Holloway on Instagram (@jordanholloway)