Even when you are the No. 1 overall MLB Draft pick and rise to become the No. 1 prospect in baseball, the process to improve is still important, even with a driven player with massive talent.
And so, this is true for the Orioles’ Jackson Holliday, who begins a bid next week to make the club’s Opening Day roster.
On July 17, 2022, the Orioles made Holliday the draft’s No. 1 overall pick. Then the kid from Oklahoma went out and put up a .911 OPS in his first 20 pro games between the Florida Complex League and Single-A Delmarva. He walked twice as many times as he struck out. But for a young man still growing into his body and growing into what his future power will produce, he hit one homer in 64 at-bats.
So, in that quest to make even the best better, the Orioles sent coaches Cody Asche and Anthony Villa to his home that winter for some work on improving exit velocity and launch angles that would later in his career turn some deep fly balls into hits and doubles into balls that could go over the fence.
Last season, this impressive young man that turned 20 on Dec. 4, played at four levels, hit 12 homers over 477 at-bats and rose to become the top prospect in the sport.
“He’s got some rare traits about him – that’s probably what made him the No. 1 overall draft pick,” Asche told me during Birdland Caravan. “There is a reason those guys (top picks) are, they have these rare skill sets, these rare genetics. We are just really fortunate to have someone like that in our org, not just for his potential, but because he elevates everyone else around him.”
Asche was hired by the Orioles as their upper-level hitting coordinator in 2022 and last year joined the MLB hitting staff as offensive strategy coach.
In 125 games last summer, Holliday hit .323/.442/.499/.941 and showed pop with 51 extra-base hits, speed with 113 runs and 24 steals and a good eye with 101 walks.
After just one full pro season he has become a more complete hitter than the day they drafted him.
“He really has (become more complete),” Asche said. “He controls the strikezone really well. He can hit the ball out of the yard. He’s becoming stronger and growing into his body. I don’t think there is anything not to like as a hitter. He will have some ups and downs and will have to make adjustments just like everybody else.
“He will have a spotlight on him in spring training, but that is earned. I think he will probably run with that and accept it just like all our other really good players did when they were first in major league camp. They’ve gone through the same things, and he will rely on veterans in that clubhouse to help him through things. But it will be really exciting to watch him this spring.”
Scouts have said Holliday shows good exit velocities for someone so young, but that will continue to improve as he gets bigger and gains more experience.
“I would say the sky is the limit with him. Just the overall profile in general, with the ability to play defense and impact it that way and impact the game on the bases and with the bat. The entire profile is really, really exciting to me. I think it just speaks to the people he worked with all last year on the player development side from A ball to Double-A and Triple-A. We just have good people and a good support system that allowed those skills to flourish," said Asche.
And the kid that shows maturity beyond his years and fit in so well in the Baltimore clubhouse last spring, will be in the spotlight beginning next week. What if he makes the Opening Day roster but has struggles that others like Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson once had to work through?
”I guess you don’t really know until you go through it," Asche added. "But if he is on the Opening Day roster, he’s going to be standing next to a kid that took his fair share of lumps last year in Gunnar and he came out of it. He will probably rely on his teammates, and it doesn’t seem like that will be an issue for him. He’s just so easy to be around and seems beloved by players that he plays with.”