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Saturday, February 09, 2013

P/C Indoor pulls in Hollon

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – On Nov. 14, 2012, Perfect Game accepted its first request from a prospect who wished to attend the 2013 Perfect Game Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase. That request came from Lexington, Ky., and bore the name of 2012 PG All-American right-hander Clinton Hollon.

The 2013 PG P/C Indoor Showcase is being held this weekend at Perfect Game’s headquarters here, and true to his word – and his determination – Hollon was in attendance Saturday, eager to perform in front of Perfect Game and MLB scouting personnel for the first time since he pitched a complete outing at the 17u PG World Series in Peoria, Ariz., in late July.

“I felt it was very important to be here,” Hollon said after completing an impressive workout session throwing to live hitters early Saturday afternoon. “Taking time off like I did at the end of last summer, I was really excited to let people know that I was completely healthy and there’s nothing wrong and everything’s good.”

Hollon said he’s thrown in front of MLB scouts during recent in-home visits and had spent the two previous Saturdays throwing to live hitters in batting cages back home in Lexington. But Saturday’s outing gave a gathering of about three dozen scouts and opportunity to see him pitch for the first time since brief outing at the East Coast Pro Showcase in early August. He didn’t pitch at the PG All-American Classic because of mild flexor tendinitis in his right forearm that developed at the East Coast Pro.

“That wasn’t anything too serious at all,” Hollon said. “It was just a little two-week physical therapy thing and the rest of the time I’ve just been strengthening (the arm), and I’m doing really good.”

Hollon has pitched with the Lexington-based Kentucky Baseball Club (KBC) since he was 14 years old. He was here on Saturday with KBC founder and president Ken Jackson, and two other KBC prospects, catcher Riley Jackson (2014, Lexington, Ky.) and right-hander Lincoln Henzman (2014, Lexington, Ky.).

“He just had some slight inflammation and soreness and he just felt it was time to shut it down and take it easy,” Ken Jackson said Saturday morning when asked about Hollon’s tendinitis. “He’s 100 percent and he feels great, and he says his arm is excellent. He’s had a good winter so far, and he’s probably had every organization in Major League Baseball in to see him and talk with him and spend a lot of time to visit with him. It’s been a good winter for him.”

Physically, Hollon may be in the best shape of his life. He spent six days a week in the gym and the weight room – he said he had done no weight-training since middle school – with a personal trainer and a physical therapist over the last several months, all the while doing baseball-specific training. He has added 25 pounds to his 6-foot, 1-inch frame, and now weighs in at a solid 200 pounds.

“I feel a lot stronger. I feel good and I feel like my body’s ready to get the (high school) season going; I’m itching, man,” he said with a laugh. “I feel like (the layoff) was a blessing in disguise because I feel like I’m a lot better than I was. I’ve got a lot more movement on my ball, and with the strengthening hopefully the velocity increases to where it has been. Even though it didn’t look like it today, my changeup and curveball are better than they’ve ever been.”

Hollon’s outing at the PG P/C Indoor drew a lot of interest and he didn’t disappoint, despite his own harsh critique. His fastball sat at 91-93 mph and topped-out at 94, his curveball reached 79, his slider 83 and his changeup 86.

“My arm felt good and everything, but I didn’t have my off-speed (working) like I wanted to; that’s actually the worst that it’s been all winter,” Hollon said. “There are a lot of eyes out here and I didn’t get too nervous, but I was a little amped-up.”

Ken Jackson also felt it was important for Hollon to be at this showcase just ahead of the start of his final season of high school ball, and he also felt it was important to bring his son, Riley – who caught Hollon’s workout – and Lincoln Henzman along for the experience.

 “We love the Perfect Game organization, and the structure and the way they do things,” he said. “We’re all excited about it, and Clinton has been a Perfect Game kid for a long time and really likes the organization; he felt like this was the best spot for him to come back off the winter and the rest from the fall, so it’s good.”

This is Hollon’s 15th Perfect Game event since 2010, and his fastball was first gunned at 91 mph at the 2010 PG Ohio Valley Showcase in his hometown of Lexington. When he returned to that event a year later, his fastball topped-out at 94, and while playing for the Kentucky Baseball Club at the 2011 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., he first touched 96. He reached 95 mph at two events last summer.

The tendinitis flare-up kept Hollon from pitching at the PG All-American Classic in San Diego.

“It was a rough time for me and my family,” Hollon said. “I guess you can say it was emotional but it was definitely frustrating. That’s what we’ve been playing for the whole time since we were 15, and then to get the opportunity to go out there and not be able to perform and be out there with everybody was kind of disappointing, but I guess God has his own plan for us.”

Hollon will be the first to admit he has always benefitted from outstanding coaching; especially what he receives at Woodford County High School. His head coach at Woodford is Jeff Parrott, a right-handed pitcher who enjoyed an 11-year big-league career from 1986 to 1996.

“When I’m in the bullpen with him, he shows me all kind of things; he actually taught me the changeup that I throw that I’ve gotten a lot of movement and success out of,” Hollon said of Parrott. “And when I’m on the bench sitting next to him and picking his brain every chance I get, I learn what the major league life is like and what it takes to get there and to stay there for a long time. It’s been a blessing.”

His association with the KBC and Ken Jackson has also been a blessing – both ways.

“I’m a huge Clinton fan,” Jackson said. “He really understands pitching, probably as much as anybody we’ve ever seen through the area. My dad was a scout for 30 years with the Reds and I’ve been around it a long time and we’ve seen some arms come through Lexington, but he really can pitch.“He’s got a feel for it … and that’s the thing you see when he throws a bullpen; he understands what he’s doing and he’s not afraid to pound the zone.”

Hollon has signed with the University of Kentucky in his hometown of Lexington. He called UK’s baseball program “awesome” and said he really “couldn’t ask for anything better” when it comes to his college choice. It would be a dream-come-true for a lot of prospects, playing for your hometown university in the powerful Southeastern Conference. It’s just not necessarily Hollon’s dream.

He arrived here Saturday ranked the No. 13 overall prospect (No. 3 RHP) in the high school class of 2013 – he was No. 1 in his class for a time in 2011 – and Perfect Game ranks him the No. 53 overall prospect in June’s MLB amateur draft.

 “In the long run, playing pro ball is the goal,” he said. “I want to be in the major leagues one day, I want to be the best-ever to play the game; it’s what you play for. … I’ve had the privilege of having some teams come in and meet me, and it’s been really humbling just to know that I have that opportunity.”

After his session on Saturday, Hollon was smiling and laughing while interacting with the other prospects in attendance, even while he was slightly less than satisfied with his performance.

“I didn’t know exactly where my velocity has been; I haven’t really been on the gun much lately,” he said. “I don’t even know what I hit (on Saturday) – I never looked back (at the velocity display behind the pitcher’s mound). I had better expectations than what happened, especially with the off-speed (pitches). I felt good with the fastball but I wish I would have better control with the curveball and changeup. Hopefully everybody will come and see that it’s there.”

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