Three times Grant Holmes has started a season on MLB.com's Top-100 prospect list.
But the last time came in 2017, and in the two years since he's missed almost an entire season while rehabilitating a shoulder injury and made a slight, but necessary, change to his mechanics. But disappointment isn't noticeable when talking with Holmes, who is enjoying his best season since the Dodgers made him a first-round pick in 2014.
"I've grown a lot," said Holmes, in his second stint with the Midland RockHounds after being traded from Los Angeles to Oakland in 2016. "I've matured a lot. I've learned a lot as a pitcher, like how to take care of myself. … It's the biggest part, staying healthy."
Holmes learned all he had to about that last season. Following a rough Double-A debut in 2017 -- he went 11-12 with a 4.98 ERA and 29 appearances for Midland -- he spent much of last season at the Athletics' Spring Training complex in Arizona rehabbing a shoulder injury, then fine-tuning a mechanical change.
"Very lonely," he said about spending months away from a team.
But necessary, too. He rehabbed in time to make two starts at Class A Advanced Stockton last season. The results weren't great -- 4.50 ERA in two starts -- but it was a start.
He said he felt his velocity return toward the middle of Spring Training this year, then started a season in which he's been among the Texas League's best. Outside of one April start, he's held every opponent to two earned runs or less, and his 2.81 ERA would rank fourth in the Texas League if he had enough innings to qualify.
The strikeouts are down -- 7.3 per nine innings compared to 9.0 in 2017 -- but he'll take that considering he's walking fewer batters and allowing fewer hits. (His 1.176 WHIP is down from 1.416 in 2017.)
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He credits the newfound control on his new delivery. It wasn't a major change, just simply trying to get his hand out of his glove a little quicker than before. Once he was able to do that, everything else fell into place.
"It makes the fastball jump more," said Holmes, ranked 12th in the A's system. "I get more extension. Everything is more in sync. More movement on my pitches. More consistency. And overall, it's just a lot better on the arm."
If Holmes has learned one thing over the last two years, it's that health trumps all. And if that's the case, it doesn't matter if he's on a top-100 list or playing a second season in the Texas League.
"No disappointment," he said. "Just glad to be here instead of in Arizona rehabbing. And just glad to be playing affiliated baseball and just throwing to a couple of batters every day."
It's no secret: The Arkansas Travelers have the best record of all Double-A teams, and it's not hard to figure out how. The Travs, who won the first-half North Division title by 6 1/2 games, have a 3.06 team ERA, the lowest in the Texas league and second-lowest in Double-A. Nabil Crismatt leads the league with a 1.94 ERA, while Darren McCaughan is second at 2.55. Justin Dunn, ranked second in the Mariners system and 67th overall, leads with 96 strikeouts, while Ricardo Sanchez is second with 91.
On to OKC: The Tulsa Drillers will be without two of their top prospects for the rest of the season. Gavin Lux, a shortstop ranked No. 2 in the Los Angeles Dodgers system and No. 31 overall, and Dustin May, a right-handed pitcher ranked No. 3 and No. 51, were each promoted to Triple A Oklahoma City following the Texas League All-Star Game. Lux hit .313 with 13 home runs and 37 RBIs before being promoted. He's hitting .500 with five doubles, a triple and a home run through seven games with the Dodgers. May, 3-5 with a 3.60 ERA with the Drillers, has allowed two runs over five innings in his first start for the Dodgers.
Rotational help: Texas League hitters will get their crack at baseball's top left-handed pitching prospect soon. MacKenzie Gore, ranked No. 3 overall, was promoted to Double-A Amarillo earlier this week. Gore, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 Draft, has yet to start for the Sod Poodles, but he compiled a 1.02 ERA with 110 strikeouts over 15 starts at Advanced A Lake Elsinore.
Big week: Seth Beer wasn't struggling through the first three months of the season, but the Corpus Christi Hooks' first baseman sure has found an extra gear this month. Over three consecutive games from July 2-4, Beer went 12-for-16 with a double and three home runs. That run was capped by a five-hit performance on July 4 against Midland. Beer, ranked eighth in the Astros system, is hitting .319 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs through Tuesday.