John Holdzkom's Major League debut an endorsement: Canberra Cavalry

The Canberra Cavalry sees John Holdzkom's debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates as an endorsement to all Major League clubs they are a genuine development option.

Cavalry operations manager Tom Vincent believes the next Cavs player to make his way to The Show could be on starting pitcher Brian Grening's shopping list.

John Holdzkom playing for the Canberra Cavalry in 2013.
John Holdzkom playing for the Canberra Cavalry in 2013. Photo: SMP Images

The Cavs have produced more Major League talent than any other ABL club, with Holdzkom becoming the fourth to make it – along with shortstop Didi Gregorius (Arizona Diamondbacks), and outfielders Donald Lutz (Cincinnati Reds) and Kevin Kiermaier (Tampa Bay Rays).

Of the nine ABL players who have gone on to the MLB, almost half came through the Canberra system.

Former Canberra Cavalry pitcher John Holdzkom has graduated to the MLB with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Former Canberra Cavalry pitcher John Holdzkom has graduated to the MLB with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Photo: Getty Images

With Toronto Blue Jays prospect Jack Murphy coming back for his third season and outfielder Todd McDonald, whom the Texas Rangers paid $500,000 as a sign-on fee, also heading to the nation's capital, there could be more on the way.

Vincent has entrusted Grening with the job of scouring the independent Atlantic League for talent to bolster a Cavalry roster that is slowly starting to take shape.


The Cavs have signed Brisbane-born McDonald, plus the Blue Jays have told Vincent that Murphy, first-base L.B. Dantzler and infielder Christian Lopes will play at The Fort this summer.

"It's not a recruiting tool so much, but it's a justification to Toronto and other Major League clubs that want to have a relationship [with us] because they pay for them [to play for the Cavs]," Vincent said.

"So when Toronto says, 'Why am I spending money on sending a player out?' we've got data that suggests that they're becoming better ball players as a result."

A Major League debut might seem light years from the Australian Baseball League, but Holdzkom has put pitching in the Cavalry championship series win on a par with his MLB debut.

The 26-year-old's stunning rise started out with the New York Mets in 2006, who released him four years later, and then he spent a season in the Cincinnati Reds system in 2012.

But he found himself in the baseball wilderness before a chat with Baseball New Zealand chief executive Ryan Flynn – Holdzkom's father is a Kiwi – led to him joining the Cavs as a starting pitcher for the 2012-13 championship side.

In June this year, while playing for the Amarillo Sox in the independent American Association, a Pirates scout spotted him and three days later he signed.

After just 22 outings in the minors, he was called up to The Show on September 2 and has made five appearances with the Pirates so far, earning one save and striking out nine, and he's yet to give up a run.

"When I was pitching in that championship game you knew it was going to be on TV and there was a good amount of people there and at that time I hadn't experienced anything like that, so the nerves were quite comparable [with debuting in the MLB] to be honest. Even though they might not seem like they should, they were," Holdzkom said.

Holdzkom pays credit to Cavs manager Michael Collins for playing a crucial role in his topsy-turvy career by never losing faith in the 206-centimetre giant, who was known for being unhittable one day but a walk machine the next.

Holdzkom said he never lost faith he could make it to the big time, but said there were definitely doubts: "It's a long way from the big leagues playing in the ABL."

The lanky Californian said there was no epiphany with his game, the ball was just going where he threw it.

While the majors are known as The Show, there was no Hollywood call-up for Holdzkom.

"I heard rumours for about a week or so; it wasn't like they punched me in the gut and said, 'Hey you're going to the big leagues'," he said.

"When I did officially finally get the word it was pretty surreal, I was pretty happy. I was kind of numb a bit too, it felt like it was happening casually too the way they were telling me."

The Cavs start their 2014-15 season against arch rivals Sydney Blue Sox at Narrabundah Ballpark on November 6.