No. 31: Bryan Holaday
Bryan Holaday is one of the few prospects on this list who we've actually seen in Detroit, albeit for a paltry 13 plate appearances spread over 6 games when both Gerald Laird and Alex Avila were hurt. Holaday was drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft out of TCU, and immediately sent to Class High A-Lakeland, a somewhat aggressive assignment for Holaday's first professional season, but being a college senior who was lauded as being defensively polished, it was probably the right move. Holaday, while not flashy, held his own at Lakeland, posting a .662 OPS over the course of about 200 AB's, while throwing out 21% of runners (which is a decent percentage). In 2011, promoted to Class Double A-Erie, Holaday advanced defensively and more or less stood pat offensively (.665 OPS), but threw out 34% of runners, while vastly improving his receiving and blocking skills. In 2012, Holaday spent most of the season with Class Triple A-Toledo, and also spent the aforementioned couple weeks with Detroit. Holaday improved his on base numbers at AAA, but the power dropped significantly, leading to a career low OPS of .632. Regardless, he remains the closest catching prospect the Tigers have to major leagues, a solid defensive one at that.
Holaday is a defense-first catcher that combines solid blocking skills, good receiving skills, and a plus throwing arm behind the plate. He's a prototypical backup catcher, essentially, meaning that when he's in the lineup the defense of a team (at the MLB level) will not suffer at all, but he won't provide the same offense that the starter normally would (like Alex Avila for example). He doesn't strike out a significant amount (21% K rate), is willing to take a walk (8% BB rate), and shows some decent pop in his swing, but it hasn't really shown up in game situations yet. I saw Holaday a couple times at Toledo in 2012, and doesn't have very good plate discipline. That defect won't show up in a high number of strikeouts, but rather in a significant amount of weak contact. On 4 separate occasions (over the course of about 11 at bats that I witnessed personally), Holaday swung at a breaking ball out of the zone that resulted in a weak ground ball to the shortstop. It's possible to hit breaking balls out of the zone hard, but Holaday lacks the discipline to wait back and drive those pitches inside out to right field, which is something we saw Magglio Ordonez do on a regular basis (Miguel Cabrera prefers to go to right field with fastballs). I don't think Holaday will be totally overmatched in the major leagues from an offensive standpoint, but I also don't think he's going to be a backup who makes up totally for the loss of Gerald Laird's .710 OPS in 2012, although I think Holaday is a defensive improvement over Laird.
Holaday's ceiling for me is that of a solid backup MLB catcher, and the Tigers have a need for one, even with the signing of Bryan Pena. As it sits right now, I'd expect Holaday to head to Toledo to begin 2013, but he'll undoubtedly be the first catcher called up should the Tigers have a need, something we can almost expect, given Alex Avila's durability concerns. With better catchers like James McCann and Curt Casali not too far away, Holaday's window of opportunity with the Tigers may be closing, unless the Tigers decide to use McCann/Casali as trade chips. Like I said, I expect we'll see him at some point in 2013, and since Pena's contract is only for one year, Holaday has to be considered the front runner for the backup job in 2014.