Trenton Denholm received professional interest as a senior at Oak Ridge High School in California in 2017. The right-handed pitcher considered his pro options but felt it was best to honor his commitment to the University of California, Irvine.
The Boston Red Sox selected Denholm in the 28th round of the 2017 draft, but Denholm remained firm on his commitment to UC-Irvine. It was a decision that has paid off for Denholm as he’s a top prospect in this year’s draft class.
“It was a process and at one point I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” Denholm said. “But at the end of the day, it just came down to coming to college. I was 17 years old and I just thought college would be the right path to continue to develop and get stronger.”
Denholm enhanced his status as a pro prospect over the last three years as a starting pitcher at UC-Irvine. This year, Denholm is considered a likely top-five-round pick in the draft.
“It’s a fun process for sure,” Denholm said. “I think it’s something we always dream about. For it to be happening is an exciting experience. I’ve always dreamed of this.”
UC-Irvine put Denholm in its starting rotation when he was a freshman in 2018. Denholm started 15 games and posted a 4.72 ERA with 48 strikeouts and 25 walks allowed in 74 1/3 innings.
After his freshman season, Denholm pitched in the prestigious Cape Cod League where he didn’t allow a run in 21 2/3 innings. He credits a change in mentality for his improved results.
He carried that mindset into his sophomore season at UC-Irvine last year. It allowed him to experience better success, as he recorded a 1.81 ERA with 93 strikeouts and 20 walks allowed in 99 2/3 innings.
This spring, Denholm was off to another strong start until the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the cancelation of the season. He had a 2.28 ERA with 25 strikeouts and 10 walks allowed in 23 2/3 innings.
Denholm is a 5-foot-11, 190-pound right-handed pitcher who is one of the best strike throwers in the country. He doesn’t have eye-popping stuff but is extremely effective on the mound. He throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup, curveball and slider.
When he throws a fastball, he typically relies on his four-seamer, throwing it about 70 percent of the time compared to his two-seamer. He has a lot of confidence in his fastballs, which sit in the low-90s, and shows a strong ability to locate them in the strike zone. He uses his fastballs to attack hitters early in the counts in hopes of generating quick outs.
His changeup is an above-average offering. The pitch keeps hitters off-balanced as he locates it well and has the confidence to throw it in any count. Denholm’s curveball can be an effective pitch at times but is something he’s trying to develop more consistency with.
“I think the biggest strength in my game right now is my ability to command the fastball and throwing it with intent,” Denholm said. “I think getting ahead early and throwing strikes is another big strength.”
Denholm started tinkering with a slider two weeks before the end of the spring and even used it in his last start. He hopes to develop more consistency with the pitch throughout the offseason as he prepares for pro ball in the summer or another year at UC-Irvine in the fall.
“I think right now, you should always be working on throwing all your pitches for strikes and commanding your pitches,” Denholm said. “I’ve also started to work on a slider. It’s a harder pitch that is a little different from my curveball that’s bigger and slower. I am always working on command, and if I could find a fourth pitch in the slider that would be great.”
Although Denholm’s time at UC-Irvine could be over, he’s thankful for the experiences he’s had and the progress he’s made on the mound.
“Development wise, pitchability, in general, has gotten better,” Denholm said. “My freshman year I had my ups and downs. My mental side of the game has been my biggest growth in my time here.”
Read more stories on top 2020 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.