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Stock of Brock rising: Brock Holt makes case to stick in big leagues

05.31.14 at 6:06 pm ET
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When he was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket to fill in for the injured Will Middlebrooks in mid-May, it seemed like Brock Holt might just be a place-holder until the Red Sox could upgrade the left side of their infield.

Two weeks later, Holt has made a compelling case that he’€™s capable of more than just providing a stopgap.

Holt has been one of the club’€™s hottest hitters since he rejoined the team on May 17, hitting .278 with five doubles and bringing his line on the season to .299/.349/.390 in 20 games. Despite going 0-for-4 on Friday night against the Rays, Holt has hit safely in nine of his last 11 games, with five of those being multi-hit performances.

While the 25-year-old’€™s performance has been treated as a revelation, Holt already possessed a proven track record of success in both the minor and major leagues.

Holt’€™s tenure with the Red Sox last season left a lot to be desired, with the infielder hitting .203/.275/.237 in his 23 games while filling in for the demoted Middlebrooks at third base. But even though he didn’t produce then like he has thus far in 2014, Holt still showed some positive attributes. He put the ball in play a lot, striking out just four times in 72 plate appearances. He also walked seven times, in almost 10 percent of his plate appearances.

But his run in 2014 isn’t Holt’€™s first taste of big league success. The infielder made an impression during September call-ups in 2012 with the Pirates, batting .292/.329/.354 with two doubles and a triple in 24 games after consistent success in the minors. In 2012, he spent 126 games between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting .344 with a .406 OBP and swiping 16 bases. Holt was making the natural progression to the big leagues, producing at every stop in the minors and carrying that success over to a short major league stint.

Naturally, Holt thought that he’€™d be with the Pirates come spring training, and would get a shot at the major league roster in 2013. Such was not the case, however.

“That’€™s the funny thing about this game, you never know what’€™s going to happen next,” Holt said. “€œI obviously wasn’t expecting to get traded over here. I’€™d come up with the Pirates, I’€™d been successful in the minor leagues, got up to the big leagues and had a successful September. I was expecting to go to big league camp with them with the chance to make the team.

“€œThen a couple days after Christmas, [Pirates general manager] Neal Huntington called me, and said, ‘Hey, we traded you to the Red Sox,’ so then I didn’t have a clue what to expect.”

Holt was the other player the Red Sox received in the trade that brought once-dominant closer Joel Hanrahan over from the Pirates in exchange for Mark Melancon, Ivan De Jesus, Stolmy Pimentel and Jerry Sands. Obviously, with Hanrahan throwing just 7 1/3 innings for the Red Sox before he underwent season-ending surgery and then signing with the Tigers earlier this season, Holt now represents the value the Red Sox got from the trade. After proving himself in the brief September call-up, Holt was conflicted about his role in the swap.

“At first, I didn’t know what to think,” Holt said. “Whenever you’re traded, you’re like, ‘Did the Pirates not want me?’ and this and that but after talking to both sides, I felt good about it. I talked to John [Farrell] and Ben [Cherington] obviously, he called me, and they had some good things to say. They made me feel good about coming over, and obviously getting a chance to play here in Boston and play for the Red Sox is something a lot of people want to do and not many get a chance to do so I was excited about joining this organization.”

With Holt coming to the Red Sox as an infielder who had only played second base and shortstop throughout his career, it became necessary for him to learn a new position given that Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew and Xander Bogaerts would effectively block Holt from getting any playing time at those positions, barring an injury. Holt said he embraced working out at third base as soon as he was asked to do so in spring training in 2013.

“€œAnytime you can increase your versatility is a good thing. Obviously third base is a lot different than second or short, balls are hit a little bit harder at you and the angles and the reads are different,” Holt said. “At first, it was a little bit of a challenge but [third base/infield coach Brian] Butterfield is one of the best infield coaches in the game, and he got me over there early in spring training, took a lot of ground balls and made me feel comfortable about what I was doing over there. Once I got to Triple-A and got a few games in there, and then getting called up last year for the first time and playing some games at third here in the big leagues definitely helps out as well.”

Now Holt’€™s experience at three infield positions could help him hang onto a spot on the 25-man roster. With Drew on the cusp of rejoining the Red Sox roster, Bogaerts will move to third and Holt — who was behind Jonathan Herrera on the utility depth chart coming out of spring training — seemed likely be the odd man out in the infield picture.

That’s changed. His recent production and his ability to field three positions may mean that Holt could remain with the Red Sox as their utility infielder. Indeed, on Saturday, Red Sox manager John Farrell said that Holt would begin taking flyballs in the outfield during batting practice while also working out at first base to add further to his versatility — evidence of the growing value that the Sox see to him.

“I think his play, his contributions, merit additional flexibility,” said Farrell. “We’€™re going to start to get him some exposure in the outfield and possibly first base, at least in early work, trying to expand his overall role.”

For the first time, Holt has a real chance to turn his 20-something game tenure into a longer-lasting major league stint. But he says that his most recent call-up hasn’€™t felt too unlike his previous ones.

“€œIt hasn’t felt too different, any time you get called up you’re excited and you want to come in and succeed and do well and prove yourself so it hasn’t felt different,” Holt said. “But the more I’€™m up the more comfortable I’€™m becoming which is good, it’s good to be able to go out and play the way you’re capable of playing and feeling good about what you’re doing on the field. So I’d say the longer you’re around the more you feel like you belong, the more comfortable you can get.”

The biggest difference for Holt may be the attention he’€™s received for his work at a time when the Red Sox desperately needed a spark to their offense. All of a sudden, Holt has gained a fanbase and has garnered more media attention than he could have anticipated.

“It’€™s different for me. I’ve kind of always flown under the radar, which I like doing. I don’t like a lot of attention,” Holt said. “I’m a quiet guy, I like to come to the field and play, and then go home and hang out with my wife, we just got a puppy, I like to go home and play with him. After the game, getting on Twitter and reading some of the things that people tweet and stuff, it’€™s cool to see. I’m not too avid on Twitter, I don’€™t tweet a whole lot, but I’ll get on it and read some of the things people say.”

With Drew set to join the Red Sox on Monday, assuming that Dustin Pedroia is healthy (the second baseman was undergoing an MRI on Saturday), Holt’s time as an everyday player may be running out. But his time in the big leagues seemingly has not.

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