A door is ajar: With Elias' comments, O's provide Jackson Holliday a path to Opening Day roster

NASHVILLE – The Orioles made news of sorts yesterday without making any signings or trades. The news was that there is “very definitely a strong possibility” that No. 1 ranked prospect Jackson Holliday will be on the Opening Day roster March 28. That is how O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias answered when asked about the possibility of the kid being there for the opener. 

Earlier in the winter, Elias was indicating the O’s were open to his chance to make it on Opening Day but also that they would make that decision during spring training. Yesterday’s pronouncement gives Holliday, who turned 20 Monday, a great chance to be there for the opener against the Los Angeles Angels at Camden Yards.  

"It's definitely a very strong possibility,” Elias said during an interview session at the Winter Meetings. “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but he had a historic first full season in the minors. Probably you have to go back into like the 80s or 90s to find something similar to that in my opinion for an American kid out of high school. Got to Triple-A. Wasn’t there a huge amount of time, didn’t tear the cover off the ball, but he more than held his own and did well.”

Holliday rose four levels, from Low Single-A to Triple-A, batting .323/.442/.499/.941 while rising to become the No. 1 prospect in the sport and he also played in the All-Star Futures Game in July.

“He’s now going to be back in spring training. He just turned 20. To me that’s a big year of development – 19 to 20. You get taller, you get heavier, you get more mature. Just a lot of good things that can happen. We just want to see what he looks like,” said Elias of Holliday, who led all of the minors scoring 113 runs and he was fifth in on-base percentage.

He was the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year and Baseball America’s National Player of the Year.

"He's going to be treated in this major league camp, not like a prospect where we're kind of having fun and having him in camp for the experience of it, but like a guy trying to make the team,” Elias said of Holliday, who could find himself in the O’s starting lineup less than 12 months since opening the 2023 season with Delmarva.

Will the club want him to settle into playing just one spot on defense?

“I think in Sarasota, we’re going to see him at short and second base,” Elias said. “And we probably won’t do much beyond that this year. I think that’s where his skills profile best, but it also seems to me, those two positions where I could foresee the most playing time in 2024.”

Any concerns about it hurting his offense if he is asked to play two positions up the middle on defense?

“I mean that’s baseball today," he said. "Gunnar (Henderson) was a good example of, you know, how that can be accepted and not problematic. It’s challenging for the players, but they can handle it. Some of the biggest stars in baseball – I mean, Mookie Betts goes from the outfield to second base – it’s part of baseball now and it provides a lot of value. There are very, very, very few players that stand in the same spot and nowhere else.”

Here is the Jackson Holliday timeline scenario if he does make his MLB debut on Opening Day, 2024.

* July 17, 2022 - Selected 1/1 by the Orioles.

* April 6, 2023 - Plays Opening Day for Low Single-A Delmarva.

* April 25, 2023 - Debuts for High-A Aberdeen.

* July 9, 2023 - Plays in the All-Star Futures Game in Seattle.

* July 14, 2023 - Debuts for Double-A Bowie.

* Sept. 5, 2023 - Debuts for Triple-A Norfolk.

* March 28, 2024 – Could make his MLB debut versus the Los Angeles Angels at Oriole Park.

Earlier in the day Tuesday in Nashville, before Elias gave the strong indication that Holliday would make the Opening Day roster, O’s manager Brandon Hyde was asked about that possibility. Was Holliday that rare kid who might move to the majors after just 22 games (counting four in the playoffs) at Triple-A?

“Well, I’ve never seen a kid that young have that much success this fast,” Hyde said. “Especially at a high level like Triple-A at 19. I had (Giancarlo) Stanton in Double-A at 19, then he repeated and came up to the big leagues at the halfway point at 20. But you know, Jackson, the numbers he’s put up throughout his short minor league career are, especially for his age, really incredible. So, I think we are going to give him as many looks as possible in spring training. Give him every opportunity. We really believe in his talent and he’s going to have a huge future and great career. Whether it’s going to breaking with us or not, I can’t answer that right now. But we’re going to give him an opportunity.”

Hyde was asked if the O’s could err on the side of caution and give the kid more time on the farm or was he that rare talent that could make the majors this fast?

“Yeah (he could be that kid). When you’re making those decisions it’s never 100 percent – you’re not fully confident you’re making the right choice. You are looking at a lot of things. Whether it’s makeup or is he ready mentally, is he ready physically to handle the major league life? With Jackson’s case, growing up in a major league clubhouse has obviously been a huge help for him. He’s not going to be overwhelmed from what playing in the big leagues is like. He’s been in that environment before and that’s a big deal. But the majors are a lot different than the minors and a lot different than Triple-A. Whether we think he’s ready for all that or not, we’ll see.”

As we found out later in the day, the O's pretty much have decided he is ready for that. 

And while the Orioles have not guaranteed Holliday a roster spot for Opening Day, it now will be expected and anticipated that he gets one. If he has a terrible spring maybe things can change, but he’s obviously got a great shot. The O’s feel he’s ready and as I’ve said before, maybe it’s just time to get on with it. Manny Machado made it without ever playing a Triple-A game.

Holliday may have that baby face, but he’s tough on the inside and mature beyond his years. All that time spent in a big league clubhouse with his dad has served him well as a pro player. He’s not cocky, but he’s also not afraid either. He is confident and if he struggles early on, it won’t get him down is my take.

His massive talent is about to be unleased on the American League. The O’s infield is very, very crowded right now but if Holliday breaks north with the team the O’s may have two Gunnar Henderson type talents on the roster. This kid has five-tool talent like Gunnar and now the Orioles could have the last three No. 1 ranked prospects in Rutschman, Gunnar and Holliday all in the same lineup.

During an interview yesterday at the Winter Meetings, Anthony Villa, the O’s new director of player development, recalled working with Holliday at his Oklahoma home last winter along with O’s major league coach Cody Asche. They went to see Holliday to tweak a few things with his swing and try and help him improve his power. He went from one homer in 64 at-bats in 2022 after the draft to 12 last season in 477 at-bats.

“We were fortunate enough to take a trip to see Jackson and we spent some quality time with him and spent time with Matt (his dad) and met his brother Ethan who is also quite the player. They are a great family, an amazing family. To spend a couple of days in their world was a privilege,” he said. 

Villa and Asche worked to improve Holliday’s launch angles on balls he squared up to help more either get out of the ballpark or get deep into the gaps.

“With Jax, after his first short season after the draft and playing at Delmarva, there wasn’t really much to improve. He’s such a good player. Obviously, he needs to continue to develop physically as would any teenager. But we did nitpick a little bit and say if he hits the ball a little crisper and a little more on the line, then some of those flyouts would turn into gap shots and doubles and triples with his speed. We certainly saw that this year. It was amazing to see that launch angle distribution really just assessing how crisp those line drives were.

“To do what he did and climb four levels is impressive. The makeup and the way he carries himself is impressive. He just needs to continue to develop physically – he is still so young, he has room to develop physically and that’s really exciting. And just continue to sharpen that bat-to-ball skill that he does so well,” said Villa.

Villa said some O’s hitting coaches will visit Holliday in January for more work with him. This time they won't be pointing toward his first game with Delmarva, but rather possibly Baltimore. 

Basallo note: O's catching prospect Samuel Basallo, ranked as the club's No. 2 prospect by Baseball America, behind only Holliday, is not expected to play any winter ball. He will just work on his offseason strength and conditioning program.

The club's top international prospect from the Dominican Republic, Basallo, who turned 19 in August, hit .313 with a .953 OPS in 114 games between three teams, ending the year with Double-A Bowie. He had been selected in round one of the Dominican Winter League draft.

Speaking of the draft the Orioles now hold the 22nd, 32nd and 34th picks in the MLB Draft next July. 

Kimbrel note: The Orioles may be close to getting the back-end relief help they seek. Joel Sherman has reported that the Orioles are "seriously engaged" with free-agent right-handed reliever Craig Kimbrel.

Kimbrel, 35, went 8-6 with a 3.26 ERA, a 1.045 WHIP and 12.5 K rate last year. He had 42 saves four straight years earlier in his career, but not since 2014 and had 23 saves for the Phillies last year.

He still has a potent fastball and featured several strong so-called underlying metrics a year ago, ranking in the top 19 percent of MLB in pitching run value, the top five percent in expected batting average and top four percent in hard-hit percentage.  





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