Conway’s Holmes in unique position as potential MLB first-round draft pick

For The Sun NewsJune 3, 2014 

Conway's Grant Holmes is expected to be a first-round pick in the MLB First Year Player Draft on Thursday.

BY JANET BLACKMON MORGAN — jblackmon@thesunnews.com Buy Photo

One by one, the Major League Baseball teams went to the Holmes’ residence.

They’d talk in the living room, eat dinner, maybe talk some more.

More than 15 of them were researching their potential investment. They went there to find out if Grant Holmes was worth the risk.

On Thursday evening, the Conway senior pitcher is projected to be a first-round pick in the MLB First Year Player Draft. Most reputable mocks have him going in the middle of the opening round.

The money paid out, and the amount of time spent on players who are selected there, is no joke. The pro teams each have different strategies, different needs.

But 6-foot-2, 200-pound kids who reach triple digits on the radar gun don’t come around every day. That has equated to a frenzy unseen in Horry County in recent memory. Name the top prep athletes to come out of the area in the last decade, regardless of sport, and it’s hard to find one who garnered anywhere near the attention Holmes has.

Fans turned major league scout bingo into a side game when the Tigers played. He was invited to throw and spend time with professional general managers. And last week, he was one of seven players in the country asked to attend the draft in-person, a sign that Major League Baseball itself believes Holmes’ name will be one of the first called.

The swirl of information, the questions, the publicity and the planning all comes because Holmes has turned himself into one of the best draft-eligible players in the country.

Funny thing, though. As good as he is with a baseball in his hands, he has also been seemingly well-equipped to handle all the madness.

“It makes me feel special,” he said. “It’s a dream come true. The opportunity comes like this, and I’m going to make the most of it.”

Craziness in Conway

One of the Holmes’ family friends happens to know a thing or two about baseball.

Paul Faulk led South Brunswick (N.C.) to a 1988 state championship and a No. 5 national ranking from USA Today. He was inducted into the North Carolina Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2010.

But aside from that 1988 team – one that saw Wynn Beck drafted in the second round and Quinton McCrackin go on to a successful 12-year run in the majors – Faulk has made a living judging talent. He worked in the Braves’ organization as a cross-checker for more than a decade before joining the Washington Nationals as an area scout.

For Faulk, evaluating Holmes was confusing at first.

“In all honesty, I thought he was going to be a heck of a football player, a heck of a linebacker,” Faulk said, noting the sport Holmes gave up after his sophomore year. “I knew he had a good arm, but sometimes you overlook stuff because you’re used to it. I guess when you’re around it all the time, it doesn’t really stand out.”

Right around that time Holmes quit football to concentrate on baseball, his potential was hard to miss.

He had already turned himself in Conway’s top pitcher and was getting significant interest from many of the same programs that recruited his older brother, former South Carolina Gamecock and current minor leaguer Colby Holmes.

After a stellar junior season, that interest sky-rocketed. Grant Holmes was invited to a pair of national all-star games that took place at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and San Diego’s Petco Park.

He started to get mentioned as a potential 2014 first-round pick. Within months, that talk started to sound like it was coming out of a megaphone.

In November, when he signed his National Letter of Intent with Florida, many people believed his official commitment was little more than white noise for Thursday. The pro teams were already swarming.

Everyone wanted a piece of the big righty. That left Conway coach Anthony Carroll often playing Public Relations Director.

“I think I was prepared for it. But I didn’t realize how big it was going to be,” Carroll said. “I never expected to go to South Florence and have 45 scouts there to watch him throw. My No. 1 goal the whole year was to do what was in the best interest of Grant Holmes.

“It was a bit more hectic than I probably thought it would be. Unless you go through it, I don’t think you can appreciate it.”

Carroll said every Sunday night during the season he sent out a mass email to approximately 65-70 people. It included information on Holmes’ up-to-date pitching status, health, last outing and expected pitch count. Last month, Carroll even spent 20 minutes on the phone with an investigator from Major League Baseball.

In Carroll’s mind, all that side work allowed Holmes to concentrate on baseball, and not the business that is about to take over.

The money

Holmes admitted he thought more of his teammates, friends and family would bring up the dollar signs affiliated with a first-round player’s contract.

“Actually, not that many,” he said when asked the number of people a day who ask about it. “It’s kind of surprising. It’s kind of outrageous, the money I may get.”

The lowest signing bonus in the 2013 draft was $1.65 million, with the largest falling at $6.7 million (Kris Bryant, No. 2, Cubs). Twenty of the 33 first-round picks topped $2 million with their bonus alone.

Even the compensatory picks (Nos. 34-39) each received at least $1.4 in signing bonuses each.

Those figures don’t include salary, shoe and apparel deals, advertising and media contracts, and on and on.

In other words, life-changing money.

It’s a major reason the pro teams do their homework. Missing on a first-round draft pick in baseball doesn’t echo like it can in, say, football or basketball. Still, that’s a big check to write.

Holmes and his family are using an advisor who – if Holmes signs a pro deal – will likely become his official agent.

The Conway pitcher also said he and his family “kind of” have a dollar figure in mind that he’s using as a threshold for whether to turn pro now or, somehow, defy common belief and head to Gainesville.

All that said, the odds are not in the Gators’ favor.

Multiple draft projections have Holmes going as high as No. 11 to Toronto, while most of the others have him going later in the first round. On Monday, he was in San Francisco meeting with the Giants, who own the No. 14 pick.

Holmes also had meetings with the Mariners (No. 6 pick) in Seattle and the Brewers (No. 12) in Milwaukee in the last week. He said he believes he will be a first-round pick, but he isn’t assuming anything.

He said he still speaks to members of the Florida coaching staff once or twice a month, and he hasn’t ruled out playing for the Southeastern Conference school.

“It depends on what happens,” he said. “You never know what happens. I’m just taking it day-to-day.”

Once in a lifetime

Faulk, Carroll and others have been drawn into a comparison game. The two longtime area baseball men have seen players come and go.

But Holmes, and the attention he’s drawn, is unique.

“As a coach,” Carroll said, “it’s probably something I’ll never experience again.”

Said Faulk: “I’m sure there are parts of the country that have this. But as far as Horry County and the district, it hasn’t happened.”

Since Carroll became an assistant at Conway in 1995, the Tigers have had a 14th rounder (Jason Bellamy, 1998) and a 17th rounder (Forrest Beverly, 2002) directly out of high school. Former St. James and current USC Gamecock Tanner English and Carolina Forest pitcher Erich Knab were each picked in the 13th round in 2011 and 2012, respectively, also directly out of their high school programs.

First-round picks, even across the state, are extremely rare.

Since 2000, only three players from S.C. high schools have been selected in the first round. Nick Ciuffo (Lexington, 2013) was the latest, with Taylor Guerrierri (Spring Valley, 2011) and Jason Place (Wren, 2006) coming before him.

Some of that has to do with certain teams trying not to make a habit out of drafting high school kids. Without a pro team or even a major market inside state lines, some have suggested others could be getting missed at the earlier stages of their careers.

Regardless, Holmes is on the cusp of joining an elite group.

A year after Ciuffo went through some of the same rigors, Holmes used his dad, former College of Charleston Sports Information Director Nick Ciuffo, for advice during the interview process. Ciuffo told Holmes to be himself.

That played right into the Conway player’s favor.

Multiple times over the last year, Carroll has said Holmes is anything but a prima donna. Watch him off the field, and he’s just another high school kid. Oddly enough, Holmes translated his polite-yet-chill personality to those general managers.

He said he became “friends” with several of them – not exactly a typical response for an 18-year old. Then again, this year has been anything but typical for Holmes.

On Friday, he’ll put on his cap and gown and graduate from Conway with his classmates. It will be, based on every projection so far, the second time he hears his name and crosses a stage this week.

Contact IAN GUERIN at ian@ianguerin.com.

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