Get to know the Nationals in the AFL: Neil Holland

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by Kyle Brostowitz

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

We’ve already caught up with infielder Tony Renda, left-hander Matt Grace,catcherSpencer Kieboom and right-hander Derek Self.

Next up: right-hander Neil Holland. 

Holland_NeilHolland appeared in a career-high 46 games between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in 2014, going 7-4 with a 3.40 ERA (29 ER/76.2 IP), including 63 strikeouts. He earned Eastern League All-Star honors for his efforts out of the Harrisburg bullpen in 2014.

Holland features a sidearm delivery that he started using during his junior year at the University of Louisville. He has appeared in eight games for the Mesa Solar Sox during this year’s Arizona Fall League season.

We recently spoke with the 2010 11th round pick about his season and experience in Arizona.

Can you describe your experience so far in Arizona?

My experience in the Arizona Fall League has been amazing. I’ve enjoyed everything about it. The facilities, fields, the cities. Everything. It’s been a great experience.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?

I feel incredibly honored to put on the Nationals jersey out here. It just makes me realize even more that I’m close to my dream, and with a really good organization.

What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

There are a lot of good hitters are out here with good approaches at such a young age. One big thing, being a sidearmer, is getting ground balls. I’ve learned to throw down in the zone to create ground balls. I’ve also worked on a new changeup, which is coming along pretty well, as well as a lower arm slot on my slider. These are all good, positive things to work on in the offseason.

How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

I feel like it took everyone a few games to feel comfortable with the new rules implemented, but I seem to be getting used to it. It doesn’t bother me too much, anyways, because I work fast. But there are still some things about the rule I have a hard time getting on board with.

What has it been like, getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?

I didn’t know exactly what to expect meeting all my new teammates and having to get to know each other so quick but it’s been surprisingly great! All the guys have been awesome, especially the bullpen guys.

What have you done on your off days?

I’ve gone golfing a few times on my off days and watched a lot of football, which is a new concept for us ballplayers, always having Sundays off each week. I enjoy playing, but definitely enjoy the off days just to relax.

Holland_Neil_actionWhere and when did you develop the sidearm delivery? 

I starting throwing side arm my junior year of college. I wasn’t having success at the University of Louisville my first two years throwing over the top and was getting ready to transfer.

Right before I was getting ready to transfer, my throwing partner (also one of our captains) suggested that I go side-armed because I would sometimes throw him some side-armed pitches that were really good and moved a lot. He told my pitching coach that I should try a bullpen that way, and it ended up working out better than we all imagined. I became the closer basically my whole junior year, and the rest is history.

There are two coaches on the Mesa staff with significant Big League experience (Ron Villone and Matt Wise). What, if anything, have you learned working with them for a few weeks?

Both are amazing coaches who have taught me a lot since I’ve been out here. They are both laid back and approachable, with a lot of knowledge, and you can pick their brain at any time. I’ve had a lot of good talks with both Wise and Villone after a bad outing and they helped me out a lot. They’re great coaches who know the game and also know a lot about the mental side of baseball.

The AFL is generally known as a “hitter’s league.” Have you seen that and has your approach changed based on the quality of hitters this league produces?

My approach hasn’t really changed since I’ve been out here, despite the good hitters I’ve been facing. I’ve always been known for being a ground ball thrower so I’ve been doing that, as well as working on my changeup. I go at the guys just like I went at the hitters during the season in Double-A and Triple-A — just trying to keep the ball low and work fast.

Is there an added level of comfort for you, and the other pitchers, having Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino behind the plate, fellow Nats catchers?

Absolutely, the Nationals pitchers are pretty spoiled having our own catchers here in the Fall League, and I’ve gotten on the same page with them very quickly. I also feel very comfortable throwing to them because they always know what I want to throw. Both Kieboom and Severino have been great with that.

You, Matt Grace and Derek Self have spent some time together in the bullpen over the years. Do you have any stories that you can share about those guys?

I’ve known both Derek and Matt for a while through my baseball career. I played with Derek two years in college too, so we know each other very well and have had a lot of good times together. Derek and I know how to push each other’s buttons, so we do make fun of each other a lot, but it’s all in good fun.

I’ve known Matt all five years I’ve played and we’ve gotten moved up together each year. He’s one of my really good friends so it was pretty cool that he and I got invited out here, too. We’ve roomed with each other off-and-on each year, and we’re also living with each other out here. So, whether it’s going out to eat, golfing, or going to the field, we’ve basically done it for five years straight now. I’ll be excited to finally get away from that guy when the offseason hits!

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