When New York Mets' former first-round draft choice Brad Holt is good, he's capable of shutting down offenses at will. When he's bad, well, he's "3-14 with an 8.34 ERA" awful.
Holt, the 33rd overall pick of the 2008 draft, was considered by upper management to be one of the best starting pitchers in the entire Mets system heading into 2010. But his terrible campaign with Double-A Binghamton was made even worse when his struggles continued with Class-A St. Lucie.
The 24-year-old, who led the New York-Penn League with a 1.87 ERA and team-high 96 strikeouts in his first year in professional baseball in '08, had his moments in an up-and-down 2009 season.
His early struggles in the Eastern League were seen as nothing more than simply being challenged at a new level.
These problems, though, continued into the start of 2010. Holt posted a 1-5 record and 10.20 ERA in 10 games. Opponents hit .336 against him, and the Mets had no real choice but to option him down to the Florida State League.
The right-hander continued to hit a mental wall, making the waters even murkier in the Sunshine State. His thoughts were all over the place, and his 2-9 record and 7.48 ERA was less indicative of his talent and potential than a shocking indictment of the importance of focus on the mound.
Holt told MLB.com, "It was a mental year, I got caught in the quicksand and it's hard to come out of it. It was just all in my head, it was frustrating all year."
Looking to start fresh and rebuild his confidence, Holt pitched in the instructional leagues before heading down to Arizona to pitch for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Fall League.
Three starts in, and he's 2-0 with a perfect 0.00 ERA.
He has allowed just one earned run in nine innings, and on Saturday he allowed one hit while striking out five batters and walking none.
He says his fastball command is where he wants it to be, and he told MLB.com that he is finally getting some success adding the cutter to his repertoire with the help of the Mets' Triple-A pitching coach Ricky Bones.
The biggest key, however, is that his head is in the game.
"The biggest thing coming off of last season was not having any type of command, so all the wildness was making all my thoughts jumbled," he explained. "I cleared my thoughts and I started to do what felt comfortable out there, and I think that has played a big part in me getting back in the zone and throwing strikes."
The key was staying in the zone. It was all about the command," he said. "When you can command more than two pitches, it makes it that much easier. I wanted to get ahead of hitters, throw first-pitch strikes and get ahead in the count. That was a big key to everything going smoothly."
Mets fans should not expect to see Holt in Flushing any time soon. He's never pitched above Triple-A and it's unrealistic to assume that he will get a shot with the big club until late-2012 at the earliest.
That doesn't make him a bust, but it probably does put him a year behind where people thought he would be.
Still, if he has continued success in the Fall League--where some of the very best hitters in the Minor Leaguers play--then it is safe to say that he will be in a much better place, mentally and physically, by the start of the 2011 season.
With a new, positive mindset and four pitches that he can throw for strikes, Holt might be able to make believers out of doubters once again.
To read more about Holt's performance in the AFL, read the full MLB story here.