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Showcase | Story | 6/12/2021

Fun the focus for Jr. 2-timer Holcomb

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Braden Holcomb (Perfect Game)

MARIETTA, Ga. – No official count was taken because that would have bordered on goofy. But the over-under on the number of times upbeat Ocoee, Fla., top shortstop prospect Braden Holcomb and his equally upbeat mom, Lynn Holcomb, used the work “fun” during separate conversations Saturday morning had to be around 25.

And why not? The Holcombs were among the first four-team group to gather at Perfect Game’s East Cobb Baseball Complex for this year’s PG Junior National Showcase where “fun” will often be the operative word. Right there alongside other instructive words like competition, talent, development and projection, anyway.

Holcomb, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound athletic shortstop/outfielder, walked into the ECB Complex Saturday ranked the No. 10 overall (No. 1 shortstop) prospect in the country from the class of 2023, and the 16½-year-old Vanderbilt commit wears his athleticism well.

He is coming off an all-tournament team performance at the PG WWBA 16u East Memorial Day Classic played in Fort Myers, Fla., and was at another tournament in West Palm Beach, Fla., before arriving here late Friday night. He admitted to feeling a little travel-weary Saturday morning but came to life nicely as soon as he got to the field on a warm and muggy morning.

This is, after all, Holcomb’s second time experiencing all the good vibrations that emanate from the Jr. National being one of 10 2023 prospects on hand who was also at the 2020 PG Jr. National in Hoover, Ala.

“I really wanted to come out just because it’s a real fun event and I enjoy being here,” Holcomb told PG just before completing the workout portion of the showcase. “It’s a really well-run event and it’s just good to get out here and go against this kind of competition; I love it.”

Holcomb is the son of Jason and Lynn Holcomb, and Lynn serves as the athletic director at Foundation Academy High School in Winter Garden, Fla., just west of Orlando, the same school at which Braden just completed his sophomore year.

She was found Saturday morning standing under the shade of a tree that sits outside the right field line on Field 1 watching dozens of young prospects take care of their on-field business, just like she’s done dozens of times before. The whole scene simply brought a smile to her face.

“They’re from all over but they keep up with each other on social media and with texts and all that stuff,” Lynn told PG. “It is good for them to do this once in a while and over the summer at tournaments because they get to be together again...It’s just a lot of fun. A lot of fun to come out and do these things and see the guys.”

Holcomb has been rostered at 35 PG events to date with many more to come over the next two years. He’s been named all-tournament 14 times playing with Team Orlando in 2019 and Power Baseball 2023 Platinum in 2020 and 2021.

His showcase experiences are also fairly extensive and he earned Top Prospect List and Top Prospect Team recognition at the 2019 PG 14u Florida and 14u National showcases, and at the Jr. National and 2023 All-American Games showcases in 2020. He doesn’t take any different approach to his showcase appearances then he does when he steps out into a championship tournament environment.

“To be honest, I just go out there and I just try to have fun,” Holcomb said, repeating the “F” word once again. “Especially now that I’ve been to so many of these I don’t really get nervous anymore, I just come here and play my game and just have fun.”

The invitation to the PG 14u National Showcase in Fort Myers in August 2019 really got the ball rolling for Holcomb, although he had clearly been on the radar of the PG scouting department for well over a year at that time. His TPL performance at jetBlue Park led to the logical next step, which was an invitation to return to jetBlue Park over the Labor Day Weekend for the prestigious PG 14u Select Baseball Festival.

“The Select Fest was honestly one of the most fun baseball events that I’ve played in,” Holcomb said. “They treated us really well and it was just so much fun to get around with all of those guys and just play and have fun. We got so much gear and everything it was just really awesome; I really enjoyed that.”

Wearing the figurative “Mom cap” Lynn told PG it has been enjoyable watching her son become bigger and stronger and growing into the impressive top prospect he is today. She remembers fondly those early 13u and 14u events and how Braden was having an absolute blast competing with and against his other talented age-group peers.

She is steadfast in her belief that the only effect attending elite, high-level, invitation-only events like the Jr. National will have on these young prospects is a positive one in that it will only make each and every one of them better ballplayers at the end of the day. That’s how much they feed off of each other’s energy.

Consider the fact that these guys wait roughly nine months just to get a chance to play with each other again, once they do get back together and start catching up on things teenagers catch up on that, too, can only help them relax at the end of the day.

“It can be overwhelming and it was just truly an honor to be chosen to play in some of those really big events with the caliber of players that were all around him at that age,” Lynn said. “This ’23 class has got a lot of special players in it and it was just an honor for him to be included in that top bunch.”

Because of his size there has been some speculation as to what Holcomb’s best defensive position might be beyond high school, but that speculation isn’t coming from Holcomb – he considers himself a shortstop and that’s what he’ll be until someone convinces him otherwise.

Simply put, Holcomb believes he’s athletic enough and skilled enough at the position – remember that PG ranks him the No. 1 shortstop in his class – to continue down that path. He’s also realistic enough to know that it’s impossible to predict what the future holds and that at some point, eight at Vanderbilt or in the minor leagues, he may be moved to third or the outfield.

The bottom line is that Braden Holcomb has been pleased with his development at the position and the progression he’s shown with his game overall: “I’ve been really focusing on my body and trying to slim down and I think I’ve done a pretty danged good job; I think it’s really taken my game to the next level,” he said. “I’ve been playing pretty well lately.”

Holcomb went to a camp at Vanderbilt in the fall of 2019 and committed to head coach Tim Corbin’s NCAA national championship program that November.

“I just walked around the (campus) and I fell in love with it,” Holcomb said. “I love the coaches there – Coach (Mike) Baxter, Coach Corbin – they’re amazing guys. I just fell in love with the campus and the entire program. It’s an awesome environment and I’m really excited to be a part of it.”

It was telling that Lynn Holcomb was wearing a “Vandy Boys” tank top at the East Cobb Complex on Saturday, an article of clothing that likely received an approving nod of acknowledgment from several other parents in attendance. Four other top 2023s here over the next four days – No. 3-ranked Maxwell Clark (Indiana), No. 5 Ethan Robinson (Tennessee), No. 14 Wesley Mendes (Florida) and No. 243 George Lombard (Florida) are also committed to Vanderbilt.

“He takes that (commitment) to heart and he understands that he may not be a Vandy Boy yet but everybody knows he’s committed to Vanderbilt and he wants to rep them well,” Lynn said. “All of these boys, they’re committed to big schools at 16 years old and it’s a lot of pressure. But I think this last year he’s learned how to relax more and just play and not worry about being the Vandy commit.”

Braden Holcomb recently wrapped-up what was his first official prep season for the Foundation Academy Lions after what would have been his freshman season in 2020 was erased by COVID-19.

He told PG that he really enjoyed himself this spring because the Lions’ varsity team was extremely young and he was kind of nudged into a leadership role, even as a sophomore. No worries in that regard. The team just decided to focus on getting better and yes, you guessed it, on just having fun.

“He’s learning a lot of important life lessons playing at a smaller school: How to lead at a  young age, how to get up for games that maybe aren’t as big as some of his travel ball games,” Lynn said. “He’s proud to be a Lion and we’re glad that he’s getting to learn those kind of things in school.”

As a high school athletic director, even at a small private academy, Lynn Holcomb sees first-hand the pressures that are often put on these teenagers, especially the ones that compete at an elite, D-I scholarship level like her son Braden does.  They’re kids and they sometimes want things to happen too quickly and don’t always understand when that’s not the way things necessarily work.

“We’re trying to remind them that it’s a process; you’re nowhere near where you’re going to be  in three years,” Lynn said. “Enjoy the ride, it’s a process and you’re not going to achieve everything in your junior year of high school.”

But make no mistake, Braden Holcomb achieved quite a bit during his first day of play at the Jr. National Showcase. He produced an event-best 99 mph exit velo along with another event-best throw of 95 mph across the infield; his 6.72-second clocking in the 60 ranked as the day’s eighth-best effort.

During his BP session, a PG scout noted that Holcomb, a right-handed hitter, “peppered the right-center gap early in his round as we have become accustomed to barrels with him in the box. Easy power and one of the premier hitters in the class.”

That’s high praise indeed but showing scouts what Holcomb is capable of wasn’t the main reason for this return trip to the Jr. National. As Lynn Holcomb explained, the family is at the point now where they’re kind of picking and choosing which events he’ll attend because he’s playing so frequently and they don’t want to overdo it. Fact is, Braden just didn’t want to miss this one because all of his good buddies from all across the country are here and he simply enjoys the act of re-connecting more than anything.

“Ever since I got involved with these events I’ve become really close with a lot of these guys, and I do make sure I stay in touch with them,” Holcomb said. “Coming out here at these events, we just get to hang out and chill with each other and it’s awesome; I love it.”

When asked if there was anyone who has had an oversized impact on his baseball career to date, Holcomb started considering all the truly fine coaches he’s come into contact with along the way and then abruptly shifted gears.

“Honestly, I would have to say my mom; she’s been my rock through everything,” he said. “She takes me to all these events and she’s been with me through all the rough (times); she’s been awesome. She’s probably been the most impactful.”

They do appear to make a good team, a mom and son who work from the same page to make sure progress is made and goals are reached. There’s a long, hot summer ahead but as Lynn was quick to point out, Braden just always seems to be at his best when he’s at a PG event.

They might make it home for a few days over the next couple of months but not for much longer than that. It’s summertime and there aren’t any school-related deadlines to meet or schedules to keep. Yes, these young guys work extremely hard considering all the games being played coupled with rigorous training schedules but everyone is all-in,

“We look forward to it. … It’s a lot of fun and we only have two years left,” Lynn said. “Next year they’re the oldest age group and it’s their turn. We’ve got this summer and next summer and we’re going to be sad when it’s over so we’re just going to enjoy it.”

In other words, they plan on having fun, fun, fun until someone takes the baseballs away.

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