Bubba Hollins: aesthetically, one of the best names in the Marlins system, if not in all of MiLB. That you probably know. What you may not know is that Bubba is actually David Hollins, Jr, the son of a 17.8 career WAR corner infielder. Accordingly, Bubba is the owner of a pedigree, upbringing and support system that spawned a fantastic amateur career and is beginning to birth professional success. By hitting .338/.411/.508 this past month, Bubba is our first 2019 Prospect Of The Month.
Born on December 6th, 1995, Hollins was named after his father, carrying the name David Jr. However, Hollins did not go by that name for very long before he was given an alternate everyday moniker. According to Hollins, his stout build even as a child is what led to the nickname. It’s stuck with him ever since.
“When I was a baby I was really fat and chubby with chubby cheeks. My mom said you could barely see my eyes when I was a kid. So she just started calling me Bubba, Bubs, nicknames like that,” Hollins said. “I don’t know, it just sort of stuck with me through the years. All my close friends and family have all called me Bubba and never really called me David at all. I loved it and it’s all I really knew. It’s a funny story.”
In addition to earning the title given to him by his mother early in life, Hollins also importantly benefited from growing up within the game. As the son of Dave Sr, spent many an occasion watching and and under the tutelage of a .260/.358/.420 career hitter. According to Bubba, he made the most of the days he was able to spend with his dad, under the
“He was gone a lot, but every time he was home we’d work together almost every day. When it came to college ball and pro ball, he has helped me tremendously on the mental side; just to adapt faster to the game and to slow it down. To be around him and [fellow major leaguers] at a young age, it’s been very helpful. For him to watch me now play at his level, it’s pretty cool. It’s weird, but it’s a cool feeling.”
Along with his alternate title given to him by his parents, the thing that caused Hollins to garner it — his physique — also remained with him through his amateur career.
“I was always one of the smaller players on the team. I was only about 5’11”, 180 my senior year but before that, I was even smaller,” Hollins said. “I always took that with a chip on my shoulder to go out there as the smaller guy and play with an edge. That’s how I looked at things.”
Hollins used said shoulder-chip to refuse to let his limited size and stature limit his production. After doubling in football as the starting quarterback for his alma matter’s squad, Hollins hit .310/.393/.451 in two years in junior college. He credits that tenure spent with the Titans as a huge stepping stone in his career, one which truly allowed him to ready himself for a professional career in the game.
“My freshman year was definitely a bit of a shock with how fast the game was. It helped me get acclimated to the speed of the game being around that competition in the conference,” Hollins said. “My sophomore year I felt much more comfortable and got used to playing at that speed. My head coach Ryan Beckman has been an amazing help to me. Whatever you need, that guy will always be there for you. My teammates there — we were all competing for a job at the next level. So we all made each other better. It was a great group of guys.”
In 2017, Hollins made the jump up Division I ball at St. Bonaventure in upstate New York. In a single season there, the 24-year-old Hollins hit .290/.379/.485 with eight homers and nine doubles. During that tenure, Hollins tied Bonnies’ team records by recording six hits and eight RBIs in a single game.
“Bubba is an extremely hard worker and a great teammate. He has always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps (former Major League All-Star Dave Hollins) and St. Bonaventure baseball is very happy for him,” Bonnies head coach Larry Sudbrook said at the time. “We would’ve loved to have had him back, but we certainly respect him taking a shot at the dream and we wish him the best.”
Hollins didn’t head back to St Bonaventure in favor of signing with the Marlins who inked him as a minor league free agent in August of 2017. According to Hollins, the decision to forego his senior year of college was spurred not only by more reps against better competitors but by work he did physically leading up to the draft.
“I took off playing summer ball because I wanted to get more do more with my body to prepare me for my senior season. So I was an eight out of 10 in terms of being more ready for pro ball,” Hollins said. “Mentally, I was always ready to go. But physically I was much more prepared that time around.”
— Bonnies Baseball (@BonniesBaseball) August 1, 2017
Last season, the Marlins experimented a bit with Hollins, trying to gauge his current level of expertise. During that time, Bubba saw reps at three different levels from rookie ball to A+. Although his tenure at each level was limited over his 57 game campaign was limited, Hollins says he picked up something from each stop in his travels that have aided him in his hot start this year.
“I was bouncing around so much and not in the lineup regularly, but watching from the bench, it was pretty easy to see the difference in [levels]. In high A, those guys know how to command 2-3 pitches really well, low A maybe two pitches and short A was more like wildly effective; guys that just try to throw really hard,” Hollins said. “I think it is a big jump between low A and high A. Pitchers at that higher level really know how to pitch. They’re really good up there.”
The big difference for Hollins this season has been two-fold: being more comfortable in his approach and being able to maintain the mindset to take the game as it comes to him. Via that outlook, Bubba has put together one of the best months on the Midwest League circuit, slashing .338/.411/.508. Among hitters with at least 70 ABs, Hollins’ May BA ranked second and his OBP ranked fifth in the Midwest League. Furthermore, Bubba’s 177 wRC+ ranked third. Hollins credits the hot start to being able to repeat his approach stemming from a stance which he is more cozy in as well as to his ability to take the game as it comes to him, resisting the urge to force things.
“I think the most important lesson is to take everything a day at a time. I’ve been telling myself in the offseason that this year was going to be different and to just take one at bat at a time and on the field one pitch at a time,” Hollins said. “I’ve got a batting stance I’m finally comfortable in and I’m just able to focus on the baseball. Just to try to stay on the heater and stay middle. Whatever happens from there, happens.”
Via his fantastic month of April, the 23-year-old has succeeded at a very advantageous time, one in which a rebuilding organization is looking for young players to step up and make themselves known. However, much in the same way that he has learned how to take one at-bat at a time, Hollins is staying in the moment, focusing on the day and task at hand. According to Bubba, he’s concerned with only that and not with what is in front of him. In this way, he is limiting distraction and streamlining his achievements, ones which should follow him up the MiLB ladder and beyond.
“I just come to the ballpark and take care of business every day. If you’re taking care of your business, you’re helping the ball club, wherever you are,” Hollins said. “At the end of the day, I’m not thinking about anything else. The best thing to do is to focus on yourself and helping your team out.”
From a compact and low straight-away stance, the 6’1”, 200 pound Hollins cuts down on an already small strike zone. The difference for Bubba this season has been in his aforementioned comfortability in his stance and approach. By setting up from further back in the box, Hollins has garnered the ability to let the ball to get deeper, aiding in his plate vision, swing selectiveness and consistency in getting the to drop. Couple that with his ability to cover the plate extremely well and Bubba is already painting beautifully over his hit chart canvas.
Hollins’ swing itself has always held good speed through the zone. The mostly-straight through line drive cut is built for a big average and, due to good raw upper body strength and lightning quick hands, the occasional gap and/or fence. At current, his offensive ceiling is that of a constant on-base threat capable of respectable power numbers, a la Martin Prado, a similarly sized 6’0”, 215, 289/.337/.416 career stick.
In the field, Hollins is a natural third baseman with good off-the-bat instincts and a strong right arm that makes accurate throws across the diamond. In 61 games, he’s committed just five errors. Hollins also has eligibility at first base.
Bubba’s name — although recognizable — is not one the average fan might have heard mentioned too often, especially during the current state of the rebuild. However, that all could be about to change. Rule 5 eligible next season, if his hot hitting continues, Bubba, 23, should be placed on the fast track up the minor league ladder.