Life with Derek.

It’s the spring of 2006.  You’re Rick Schroeder, or Jeff Wood.  You’ve laid the road map out and found Hanceville, Alabama, the home of Wallace State Community College.  You know, eight miles south of Cullman.  

Wallace State-Hanceville, that school of a couple thousand that sports bitter rivalries with Alabama Community College Conference foes Bevill State-Sumiton and Northwest Shoals.  You throw the records out when the Wallace State-Hanceville and Northwest Shoals go to war.

You know, Wallace State-Hanceville, which has sent infielder Zealous Wheeler and four other players directly to the minor leagues, one of whom has gone so far as to reach AA.  

You settle into your seat in James C. Bailey Stadium, where the attendance is probably no greater than the number of players in uniform.

Even on a day that Derek Holland pitched.

You see enough of Holland, who goes 8-2, 2.69 as a Lions freshman, striking out 80 community college hitters (and walking 32) in 77 community college innings, that you flag his name when submitting your reports to central crosschecker Mike Grouse.  You make a good enough case that Grouse pounds his fists on the table when submitting his own reports to national crosschecker Kip ****, who buys in enough that Holland lands on Ron Hopkins’s 2006 draft board.

But not near the top.

In the 24th round, Texas chose a lefthander (Robert “Lance” McClain) from Walters State Community College.  In the 25th round, it was time to cross off the list the name of that lefthander from Wallace State Community College: 19-year-old Derek Holland.  

If Holland was relatively anonymous at the time, he wouldn’t be for long.  Texas didn’t come to terms with Holland that summer and may never have intended to, instead opting to monitor him the next spring as a draft-and-follow, a process that was extinguished after that 2006 draft.  But in November, Holland committed to transfer to Arizona State for his junior season — that is, if he didn’t sign with the Rangers by the end of May 2007, and then didn’t sign with whichever team drafted him as a Wallace State sophomore on June 7.

You’re Schroeder, or Wood, and along with Grouse and **** and Jon Daniels you keep tabs on Holland as a Lions sophomore, watching him go 9-2, 1.82 in 13 starts, three of which were complete game shutouts, with 84 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 74.1 innings.  Holland held the league to a .194 average as a freshman.  The league managed to hit .200 off him as a sophomore.

You see Holland allow one earned run in 24 innings over his final four starts (against juggernauts Meridian Community College, Marion Military Institute, Gadsden State, and Calhoun), recording wins each time.  It’s now mid-May, and your sense, and that of the organization, is that your 2006 25th-rounder will probably figure in somewhere between the fourth and seventh rounds in a couple weeks, if you can’t sign him.

But negotiations go well, so well in fact that Holland came to terms on May 20, 2007, 10 days before the deadline for draft-and-follows to sign.

Texas agreed to pay the Wallace State-Hanceville lefthander $200,000 to sign.  Roughly fourth- or fifth-round money.  He was effectively taken off 30 draft boards, as well as off of Arizona State’s 2008 roster, and sent to Spokane, Washington.

As your attention turned toward the 2008 draft crop, you peeked back every once in a while to see what Holland managed to do in his rookie summer.  In 14 Northwest League starts and two relief appearances, he went 4-5, 3.22, scattering 57 hits (.224 OBA) and 21 walks in 67 innings while punching out an impressive 83 with a lively fastball that sat at 89-93, complemented by a good slider and change.  

He was even better at Fall Instructs.

And even better in spring training.

And even better in Clinton this spring.

And even better, so far, in Bakersfield.

He went 7-0, 2.40 in 17 LumberKing starts, with 91 strikeouts and 29 walks in 93.2 innings, holding the Midwest League to a .228 average.  

In two Blaze starts, Holland is 2-0, 1.93, surrendering just seven hits (.149 opponents’ average) and two walks in 14 innings, fanning 14.  Last night’s effort?  Eight shutout innings, nine strikeouts.  No walks, two hits.

More velocity than in 2007 (he now touches 95).  A better groundout-per-flyout rate than in 2007.

I suggested on July 4 (after his penultimate LumberKings effort) that “[i]f one were to rank Rangers minor leaguers on untouchability, 21-year-old Clinton lefthander Derek Holland may have quietly put himself in the top ten — if not the top five.”

It seems pretty clear now that he fits, despite the unprecedented depth that this farm system now boasts, somewhere on such a list of five.

And to think that if the Rangers failed to sign Holland and he took his game to Arizona State, he would have been in the 2008 draft.  

And, even without the benefit of the pitching instruction of Rick Adair and Danny Clark (and Carlos Pulido and Dave Chavarria and others), I bet that, as a Sun Devil junior, Holland would have put himself in position to go higher than the fourth-to-seventh round.

He’d no longer be in your scouting territory, but you’d be wondering what could have been had we signed him.

If Holland had gone to ASU and went in the top couple rounds, chances are decent that he’d still be negotiating right now, rather than mowing hitters down in High A.

Farewell, draft-and-follow process, rest in peace.  Thanks for the last hurrah.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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