Another season of professional baseball is almost here. In fact, Opening Day of the 2019 Major League Baseball season is tomorrow (Thursday).
This season is going to feature a pair of McDowell County natives both playing for the same organization, one who is entering his ninth season in the majors while another will begin his first full year as a pro.
Three-time All-Star Greg Holland has emerged through spring training as the man who will take the ball in the ninth inning for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Holland, after being signed by Arizona in January, was officially announced as the team’s closer by Manager Torey Lovullo during a press conference Sunday. Holland beat out relievers Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano in a competition for the spot. Bradley and Hirano are expected to serve as set-up men to begin the 2019 campaign.
Holland signed a 1-year deal with the Diamondbacks worth $3.25 million Jan. 31.
The deal with also includes some performance-based incentives that could nearly double the base salary if reached. The January signing allowed him to have a full spring training with Arizona. A season ago, Holland didn’t have a deal in place until Opening Day when he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals.
So far in Cactus League play Holland made five appearances, the most recent back on Monday night when he tossed a scoreless inning, striking out a batter against the Chicago White Sox. Arizona played its last spring training game on Tuesday afternoon and was then en route to Los Angeles to begin the 2019 season Thursday against the Dodgers.
Holland is looking to bounce back from a 2018 campaign that started on a rough note. His struggles with the Cardinals were possibly a result of the late signing and virtually no time to prepare for the season. He posted a 7.92 ERA in 32 outings and didn’t record a save before St. Louis released him Aug. 1. He was then picked up by the Washington Nationals on Aug. 7 and it served as a fresh start. Holland responded over the last two months and looked more like the dominant closer of recent seasons. He picked up three saves and four holds in 24 appearances late in the season.
While Holland is in his twelfth year as a professional, former McDowell High and Lenoir-Rhyne University pitcher Landon Whitson begins his first full season as a professional.
The Diamondbacks chose Whitson in the 25th round of last June’s MLB draft a matter of weeks after Whitson finished out a spectacular four-year career at Lenoir Rhyne. In his four years of college, Whitson grew physically and evolved from a crafty pitcher with a velocity averaging in the mid 80s to a more powerful arm who could reach in the low 90s.
Whitson was assigned to Arizona’s Rookie League team in Missoula Montana and spent the last couple months of the 2018 season as a member of the Missoula Osprey. In 17 appearances, Whitson posted a 5.23 ERA, striking out 31 batters in 32 innings pitched.
For Whitson the last couple months of the 2018 campaign was a life-changing experience not only on the diamond but in life in general, moving from the hills of western North Carolina to the opposite end of the country.
“It was a cool experience last year to go out there,” said Whitson. “I have never been too far away from home before and especially on my own. Playing professional baseball is a lot different than playing in college, so I was happy to get the opportunity to get my foot in the door and see what professional baseball is all about.”
Whitson reported to the Diamondbacks spring training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz. March 3 and is still going through the organization’s extended spring training program. The minor league season begins a bit later compared to the majors. Whitson’s 2019 destination remains undecided at this time. He could return to Missoula for another season or be promoted to another level based on any needs that may pop up.
“I think it’s important to get out here, work hard and do your best in camp,” added Whitson. “I think the coaches and scouts know where most of the kids may end up to start the season, but there’s still the opportunity to impress the coaches and give yourself a shot to work up the ladder.”
The combination of Holland and Whitson likely represents only the second pair of former McDowell high baseball players to be in the professional ranks at the same time. Former standouts Donnie Suttles (Rookie League-Cleveland Indians) and Chuck Koone (Rookie League-Baltimore Orioles) were both in the lower levels of the pros in 1998.