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Pirates find diamond in rough in John Holdzkom

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Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

J.J. Cooper of Baseball America has a great long-form story on John Holdzkom's highly unusual path to the big leagues, and the heroes are a coach in the independent leagues (who suggested Holdzkom hold his index and middle fingers closer together when throwing his fastball) and a Pirates scout who discovered Holdzkom as he crisscrossed the country watching independent league games (usually a thankless endeavor).

The story also makes it sound like the Pirates will use Holdzkom in the playoffs if they make it, giving him a chance to be an out-of-nowhere reliever like Francisco Rodriguez was for the Angels in 2002. The one excellent inning Holdzkom has thrown in the big leagues so far doesn't make him K-Rod, of course, but watch out for him -- if the Pirates make the playoffs and he pitches well, everyone will be talking about him, because not many players go from making $600 a month in indy ball (and in what Cooper describes as "one of the lowest levels of independent baseball," no less) to the big leagues in the same season.

I said some of this on Twitter already, but: I walked by Holdzkom in the tunnels underneath Huntington Park in Columbus in late July, and was staggered by how big he was. As I've mentioned or implied a couple times here, many ballplayers' listed heights are complete fiction. Many guys who are listed at 6-foot-3 might not top six feet. Holdzkom honestly looks like an NBA player, and he's not a wiry guy, either -- he has a frame that looks like he should deliver power stuff. Every time I saw Holdzkom in the three days I was there, he always seemed to be by himself or with a coach, working on different drills than the other players.

I didn't make much of it at the time, because Holdzkom didn't have a particularly long track record then, and because I didn't get to see him pitch that series. He just seemed like an interesting minor league signee, and I assumed he'd be a project. Well, not really. He's here, and the resume he's built over the course of the season suggests he has a pretty good shot at sticking. As Cooper's piece suggests, Holdzkom has gotten to the big leagues the hard way, and the Pirates took the less-traveled route to find him. Good for both parties.