An Oriole three-peat: Three years, three different No. 1 ranked prospects

It was not unexpected as O’s prospect Jackson Holliday ended last season as the sport’s No. 1 ranked player. But when Baseball America released a new top 100 list on Wednesday, the Orioles officially became the first team in the 35-year history of their list to have the No. 1 player for three straight seasons.

Three years, three different No. 1 players.

Catcher Adley Rutschman was No. 1 in the initial list release of 2022, infielder Gunnar Henderson was No. 1 in 2023 and now Holliday in 2024.

In 2022, Rutschman went on to post an OPS of .806 for the Orioles and he finished second for AL Rookie of the Year and was 12th in the AL MVP voting. Last year, Henderson posted an OPS .814, won the AL Rookie of the Year Award and finished eighth in the MVP voting.

With the poll release last year, the Orioles then become the first team to ever have two players from the same draft class be No. 1 in consecutive years, with Rutschman and Henderson drafted in 2019. The only team previously with two straight years with two different players getting to No. 1 before 2023 was St. Louis, with J.D. Drew in 1999 and Rick Ankiel topping the ratings in 2000.

Now the Orioles have an official three-peat.

Baseball America noted how special this is for the Orioles by pointing out that in the 35-year history of their rankings only four teams have had three No. 1 ranked players at any point since 1990, their first ranking, much less doing it three straight years. Only nine organizations have had two No. 1 rated players. There are 13 clubs that have never had a No. 1 player.

Since their first ranking, Atlanta leads all clubs with the No. 1 ranking six times while the Orioles and Tampa Bay come next with four players at No. 1 and Minnesota is next with three players. The O’s Matt Wieters was No. 1 in 2009, joining the O’s trio above.

“We knew three in a row was unprecedented but the thing that did jump out is that in 35 years there have been a lot of teams (21) that didn’t have three No. 1s period. So, to have a team produce back-to-back-to-back different players as No. 1 that is truly unprecedented territory. That means the Orioles have now had four No. 1 prospects in the 35 years we’ve been doing this, and the Braves are the only team with more with six,” said Baseball America editor-in-chief JJ Cooper.

“It’s hard to imagine we are going to see this again anytime soon,” added Cooper.

Now we find out this spring if Holliday will make the Orioles’ Opening Day roster. "It's definitely a very strong possibility,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said during the Winter Meetings.

Holliday has played just 22 games at the Triple-A level counting the postseason, but his time might be coming soon in the bigs.

“With the great ones it often doesn’t matter (how few games they play at Triple-A),” said Cooper. “We have an example not far down the road. Juan Soto was way less experienced when he stepped into the Nationals lineup than Jackson Holliday is right now. You don’t want to rush a player, but at the same time, it’s usually the great ones that are the ones ready way faster than you think.

“I am not comparing Jackson to Ken Griffey Jr., but look how long Griffey spent in the minors, or Alex Rodriguez or Soto. What Holliday did last year showed that his aptitude, his skill set, his level of understanding was at an extremely advanced level for his age. He showed that all the way through Triple-A.”

In the 2018 season, Soto, at age 19, played 16 games at Low-A, 15 at High-A and just eight at Double-A before getting his call to the majors. Then, in 116 games for Washington he produced a .923 OPS and was second for the NL Rookie of the Year.

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

The Orioles have six players in the top 100:

1 – Jackson Holliday

10 – Samuel Basallo

25 – Coby Mayo

34 – Colton Cowser

41 – Heston Kjerstad

93 – DL Hall

By the way Basallo, signed for $1.3 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2021, is a remarkably fast riser. In the preseason last year, he was No. 15 on the BA O’s team top 30. Now he is No. 10 nationally.

This gets your attention, comparing the O’s two top rated players here: Holliday had a .941 OPS in 2023 in 125 games with 51 extra-base hits and 75 RBIs. Basallo had a .953 OPS in 114 games with 53 extra-base hits and 86 RBIs.

And Mayo, who turned 22 in December, had an OPS of .974 last season with 29 homers and 99 RBIs.

Baltimore and three other clubs led the majors with six players in the top 100. Tampa Bay, the New York Yankees and San Diego also had six in the top 100. Last year the O’s had a team-record eight ranked in the BA list and the outlet noted that Joey Ortiz was among the players that just missed this list.

For the first 32 years of the BA rankings, the Orioles never had two players in the top 10 and now they have done that three straight years. In 2022 it was Rutschman No. 1 and Grayson Rodriguez at No. 6. In 2023 it was Henderson No. 1 and Rodriguez No. 6 and this time it’s Holliday (1) and Basallo (10).

This year marks just the third time the Orioles had three players in the BA top 25 on the preseason list. In 2009 it was Wieters at No. 1, Chris Tillman No. 22 and Brian Matusz at No. 25. Last year it was Henderson No. 1, Rodriguez No. 6 and Holliday at No. 15.

Rounding out their eight players on the top 100 at this time last year were Colton Cowser (41), DL Hall (75), Jordan Westburg (76), Connor Norby (93) and Joey Ortiz (95).

The Orioles have had five or more players on the initial BA in just four years – 2008, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. So, they had five or more ranked once before 2021 and have now done it four straight years with five in 2021 and 2022, eight in 2023 and six this year.

They have never had five players in the top 41 as they do on this list, although they got four in the top 41 last year.

While BA noted that Ortiz just missed the list, they noted several other Orioles got at least one top 100 vote from a staff member in compiling the poll. That group includes Norby, Enrique Bradfield Jr., Chayce McDermott, Dylan Beavers, Seth Johnson and Cade Povich.

Holliday was 19 this time last year when he was ranked No. 15 on the Baseball America 2023 preseason ranking. Basallo is 19 now and will enter this year ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the sport, giving the O’s a shot at four straight years of No. 1 ranked players.

Until their current strong run of prospect rankings success, the club, as noted, had five on the BA ratings just once through 2020. They had four players in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1999, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010. They had no players on the list in 2003 or 2016.

This year’s total of six will be the second-best ever by the Orioles after last year’s total of eight players.

Baseball America noted the United States is the country of origin for 77 players on its list with 11 from the Dominican Republic, four each from Cuba and Venezuela and one each from Australia, the Bahamas, Canada and Curacao.

Click here for the BA top 100 and here for their article on the O's run of three straight No. 1 prospects. (subscription may be required for one or both).



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