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Minor league notes: Baseball vagabonds improve stock with strong seasons

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Brian Peloza
Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, 9:18 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS — John Holdzkom and Rafael Perez have risen from baseball anonymity to put themselves in at least the conversation for a possible September call-up.

Holdzkom began the season with an independent league team in Amarillo, Texas, before being promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis after a brief stint with Double-A Altoona. Perez was playing in Mexico when he was signed by the Indians in mid-July to help a rotation in need of starting pitching.

They have thrived with Indianapolis and have forced the organization to discuss them when looking at possible late-season additions.

Holdzkom has a 2.55 ERA in 14 relief appearances, striking out 22 in 17 23 innings. Perez has a 1.37 ERA in his eight appearances, which includes six starts.

The successes are similar, but how each of them have gotten to this point is wildly different.

Perez has an abundance of major league experience, appearing in 338 games with Cleveland. Prior to this season, Holdzkom had never pitched above High-A Bakersfield in the New York Mets organization.

During his time in Cleveland, Perez's fastball reached the low-90s and his slider sat in the mid-80s. After shoulder surgery two years ago, his fastball is in the mid-80s and his slider is in the high-70s, but he's using placement and mixing his pitches enough to be successful.

Perez was brought to Indianapolis mainly to help fill a void in the starting rotation. He's done that by not allowing a run in four of his starts.

“(Perez's) name comes up all of the time and that's because of his slider,” Indianapolis pitching coach Tom Filer said.

Treanor said two questions surround Perez: Will he gain velocity, and will his current stuff play in the major leagues?

“You look at the way he pitched in Cleveland, and obviously he's a different guy,” Treanor said. “I think you see remnants of the slider, but the velocity of it is 78. Will that play? I don't know, but this guy knows how to pitch. I've grown to love the guy with what he brings out there and the way he goes about everything. Will he get (any velocity) back? I don't know.”

There isn't much doubt to why the 6-foot-9 Holdzkom has been successful. He simply throws hard, with his fastball in the 95-97 range. He hit 101 mph in one game, Filer said.

“(Holdzkom) is knocking on the door,” Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said. “He's running 97 out there and with his arm slide and angle, that's tough to hit, especially when he's 95 to 97.”

Holdzkom had Tommy John surgery in 2008 and has struggled with control during his career. He hovered around one walk per inning during most of his minor league career. But with the Indians, he has walked seven in 17 23 innings.

“I think it was a lack of preparation,” Holdzkom said. “I didn't know about the ins and outs of being a professional baseball player. Now, I know what you have to do every day when you come into the yard in order to be effective when they call on you.”

Holdzkom was a fourth-round selection in the 2006 draft by the New York Mets out of Salt Lake Community College, but he bounced around in the lower levels of that organization for three seasons before being released. He had a brief stint with Cincinnati's organization in 2010 before playing for three independent teams and in Australia during two winters.

“I came to the realization that I was going to play baseball as long as I could,” Holdzkom said. “I decided I needed the mindset that this was my profession and I was going to do everything needed. It went from something that I liked to do to who I was.”

During his time in independent ball, Holdzkom lived with three host families. While in Australia, he had to pick up a part-time job sorting mail.

“I used to complain about trivial stuff in professional baseball,” Holdzkom said. “Now I don't bat an eye on that stuff. This is a privilege.”

“I came to the realization that I was going to play baseball as long as I could,” Holdzkom said. “I decided I needed the mindset that this was my profession and I was going to do everything needed. It went from something that I liked to do to who I was.”

He may not get promoted to the Pirates this season, but consistently throwing in the high-90s will keep him in the mix moving forward.

“We're always looking for power arms, and everybody is always looking for power arms out of the bullpen,” Filer said. “And we've got one right here.”

Tabata on a hot streak

Indianapolis outfielder Jose Tabata is in the midst of a hot streak, hitting .369 over his past 10 games, which includes seven multi-hit efforts. He's batting .323 in August after struggling with a .223 average in July.

Newfound home

Former two-time team MVP Matt Hague landed with Toronto's organization after being designated for assignment by the Pirates. He was assigned to Triple-A Buffalo and is hitting .462 with five RBIs over his first three games with the Bison.

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