Arm troubles, concerns about his delivery, a possible college commitment, and questions about his makeup - and an electric arm: that tends to add up to the kind of high-risk, high-reward athlete the Blue Jays covet, and after failing to sign California High Schooler Phil Bickford, Hollon became the organization's top pick in 2013.Hollon started throwing in the mid-90s after his sophomore season, establishing himself as a potential first-round pick for 2013. Elbow tendinitis sapped his arm strength toward the end of last summer, but he has bounced back this spring to work at 90-93 mph with a peak of 95. He’s athletic and has good arm speed, but the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder also throws with some effort. That costs him command and consistency, though at his best Hollon can display a sharp slider that projects as a plus pitch and a changeup that projects as average. Questions persist about his maturity, which could knock him down to the third round. Though he has committed to Kentucky and may not get selected as early as once expected, teams consider him signable.
Hollon pitched in the GCL and Appy Leagues after signing, but had some elbow issues, and after the condition flared up again in spring training the next year, he underwent Tommy John surgery. With a new UCL and a renewed focus (Hollon became a father in the offseason), Hollon was named Vancouver's Opening Day starter when the Northwest League season began play in mid-June.
Hollon was very effective for the C's, and earned a promotion to the Midwest League in early August. His Lansing debut was spectacular, retiring the final 19 hitters he faced in succession, and he pitched well in two other starts.
And then things came crashing down on Hollon.
He was suspended for 50 games for violating Minor League Baseball;s drug prevention and treatment program, after testing positive for an amphetamine. Hollon will not be paid during this suspension, which will carry over into next year.
There is no word as to what the amphetamine was at this point, although it's highly likely that it came from a supplement Hollon purchased, and it may be even more likely that he was unaware that he was consuming a banned substance. He would not be the first Blue Jays prospect to experience this - Marcus Stroman was suspended for 50 games near the end of the 2012 season for a failed test. The substance Stroman tested positive for apparently was methylhexaneamine, a supposedly mild stimulant that was in a supplement he had purchased from a GNC store. All Blue Jays prospects are given a list of products that are safe to use, and it would appear that like Stroman, Hollon strayed from this list, for whatever reason. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport warned athletes several years ago that some supplement manufacturers are less than honest about their package labelling, and some of those products can contain banned substances either deliberately, or due to contamination.
So, the question becomes - why did Hollon do it? What did he hope to gain from it? Was it arrogance or naivete?
Ok, so that's three questions. I'll do my best to offer some answers. First of all, for the uninitiated, it's not unusual for athletes to take supplements. They place demands on their bodies far in excess of what you and I do (and at that, this active blogger puts a bit of protein powder in his smoothie from time to time after a long bike ride or ski). The need to recover from today's workout is important so that they can go on to tomorrow's. And the minor league lifestyle, with long bus trips, and $20/day meal money on the road, is not exactly conducive to a healthy diet.
You can buy these supplements just about anywhere - you don't need a GNC. Our local Loblaws offers up several huge plastic tubs of various concoctions in the health food section. I suspect that Hollon had taken his illegal substances without knowing - I just can't see how a guy in the lower minors who makes less than what a fast-food worker makes (even one who signed for a below slot $476K bonus) would be intentionally be taking something illegal in order to enhance his performance.
Hollon did, however, move away from that list of approved products, so the question really becomes why take that chance? I would think maybe it was a case of bad judgement, more than thinking that he knew better than the Blue Jays medical staff. When you live a life of dedicating yourself to a singular talent, you don't always develop the greatest perspective on the world - Hollon may have thought that whatever he was taking would still pass muster on the testing front. And he will have to live with that choice. The Blue Jays, for their part, have invested heavily in Hollon, both with his bonus and his surgery, and showed patience with Stroman for making the same poor decision. One would suspect that they'll continue to be so with Hollon.
We don't know, of course, what substance Hollon was found to have taken, but it seems a safe bet that he wasn't aware of taking it. What we do know is that he's responsible for whatever he puts in his body. We also know that Lansing, gearing up for the MWL playoffs after taking the first half Eastern Division title, now has a huge hole in the middle of their starting rotation. And as for Hollon, whose development has already been set back, he will not pitch again until late May at the earliest, and those questions about his makeup will likely continue.
I leave the last word on the subject to Hollon himself, who was quoting Kid Rock, and may not have realized he was being prophetic at the time:
You get what you put in! And people get what they deserve!!!— Clinton Hollon (@HollonClinton) August 18, 2015