Prospect Retro: Matt Holliday
Here is one guy I was really wrong about.
Matt Holliday was drafted in the seventh round in 1998, from high school in Oklahoma. A top high school quarterback, he had to be lured away from college football at Oklahoma State. He hit .342/.413/.521 in 32 games in the Arizona Rookie League in 1998. He was a third baseman at the time due to his arm strength. I didn't rate rookie-level players back then, but given his athleticism and hitting performance I'd have probably given him a Grade C+ with a "higher potential" rating.
Holliday moved up to Asheville in the Sally League in 1999 and hit .264/.350/.435 with 16 homers. His defense at third base was shaky, and while his OPS came out above average at +11 percent, he had work to do with the strike zone. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2000 book, noting that he had potential but that it would take him some time to develop.
The Rockies promoted Holliday to the Carolina League in 2000. He hit .274/.335/.389, cutting his strikeouts sharply but losing most of his power in the process, hitting just seven homers. His defense at third base was downright awful, as he fielded below .900 on the season. I downgraded him to Grade C, noting that the numbers were mediocre but that he still had a good birthday.
Holliday rebounded in 2001 statistically, hitting .275/.358/.482 and getting his power stroke back. But he was limited to 72 games by injuries, and spent most of the year as a DH. I remained intrigued with his youth, but not particularly wild about the numbers, the defense, and the injuries, and gave him another Grade C. At this point, I saw him as a low-batting average slugger who would have problems finding a position.
Colorado moved Holliday up to Double-A in 2002 and once again his power disappeared, his SLG down to .391. He hit .276 with a .375 OBP, but the lack of power was disappointing. I noted that Hollliday ran well for a big guy, had a strong arm, could steal a few bases, but that "he's just never hit that well, being consistently fair at each level." I gave him another Grade C, and at that point I was thinking that he'd end up as a not-very-exiting role player.
Holliday repeated Double-A in 2003, although the Rockies moved their affiliate to Tulsa in the Texas League. He hit .253/.313/.395, and in the games I saw him play he was less than impressive. His swing looked awkward and choppy to me, and for a guy repeating Double-A at age 23 his production was very weak. I wrote that "Scouts still like Holliday" due to his tools, but that unless he took a big step forward in 2004 that I didn't think he ever would live up to the physical potential. The production just wasn't there, and when I saw him in person he looked very much like a football player trying to play baseball. Another Grade C.
Holliday took that step forward in 2004, playing 121 games for the Rockies and hitting .290/.349/.488, granted Coors Field helped him. But his last two seasons have been excellent, and he's got a shot at MVP this season.
This year, he hit .376/.435/.722 at home, but "just" .301/.374/.485 on the road. . .in other words, he's a really good player, but there is something of the old Dante Bichette effect here in that the home numbers juice the raw stats. But still, even at the .301/.374/.485 level, he is a lot better than I thought he would be. There is no way I'd ever have seen him as a .300 hitter at the major league level. The minor league numbers didn't support it, and when I saw him in person he didn't show a swing or the type of consistency that would indicate he could do that. But he did, and he has, and he's going to do it again, and he will possibly end up with an MVP trophy to show for it. So all hail Matt Holliday, and the scouts and coaches who saw in him what I did not.