It began yesterday and will run right up until the start of the Orioles major league spring training. Five of their top hitting prospects, none that have seen the majors just yet, will take part in an early hitting camp at Ed Smith Stadium.
It will run through Feb. 14 in Sarasota. It will allow the young talent to be seen by manager Brandon Hyde and some of the big league coaches and other instructors before the official report date for pitchers and catchers on Feb. 15.
The camp is not open to the public or media.
The players participating in the camp are outfielders Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad and infielders Jackson Holliday, Coby Mayo and Connor Norby. All five recently were ranked by at least one publication as a top 100 player and all five are also among the Orioles non-roster spring training invitees.
Among all O’s minor league batters in 2022 this group ranked well up there in final OPS numbers for the year, including players with a minimum of 200 plate appearances. Gunnar Henderson was first at .946 with Norby, who led the organization with 29 homers, next at .886. Cowser was fourth at .874 with Kjerstad seventh at .851 and Mayo 13th at .782.
Taken with the No. 1 overall MLB Draft pick last summer, Holliday didn’t get 200 plate appearances but had a strong debut season between the rookie level Florida Complex League and low-A Delmarva. He batted .297/.489/.422/.911 in 20 games and walked 25 times with just 12 strikeouts.
Holliday, who turned 19 Dec. 4, said he is happy to be included in the early camp where he expects to also rub elbows with some members of the 40-man roster likely to report to camp early.
“I’m really excited. Adley (Rutschman) is supposed to be down there, Gunnar, all the top hitting guys,” said Holliday. “So, I’m really looking forward to it. Anthony Villa (minor league hitting coordinator) and Cody Asche (now big league offensive strategy coach) came up and visited about a month ago and they were talking about it. It got me really excited to get down to Sarasota and start hitting with those guys and being around the best prospects in the organization. So, I am really excited to get down there and be around those players.”
Holliday is now ranked among the best prospects in baseball as No. 9 via Baseball Prospectus, No. 12 by MLBPipeline.com, No. 15 on Baseball America, No. 17 by ESPN and No. 19 via The Athletic.
Holliday said he is very open to coaching to take his game to an even higher level at bat and the coaches have worked with him already this winter on driving the ball with more consistency.
“A little bit with ball flight and trying to get it down (more consistently) in the line drive range,” he said of some that work. “I’m always open to learning new things. Every day you are trying to tweak your game a little bit to get as close to perfection as you can. Just the other day, closed my stance off a little bit to try something else. You are always tweaking it a bit and learning. I’m excited to get going and see those guys’ swings and what they really focus on.”
Some outlets put a 60 grade on Holliday’s hit tool right now and a 55 on his power. That is a plus power grade but if there are still some aspects of Holliday’s homer power still to come, the work has begun he said on trying to improve in that area.
“If I cut a ball and I don’t have as much thump as some of these other guys, or I hit it too high, it has no chance of going over the fence. Or it’s not an optimal launch angle range to be an extra-base hit. So, been working on that a little bit. That is the main thing I’m focusing on. That and being able to drive the ball the other way with more consistency and authority has been a focus too.
“I feel good right now. I feel good and my swing is in a good spot,” he said.
So now, less than even a full year in the O’s organization, Holliday is moving up the prospect charts and now ready to take a spot in major league camp.
In an earlier interview, Holliday, now ready to start his first full pro season, told me he’s not certain yet at which affiliate he will start the season, but he has some thoughts on where he’d like to end up.
“I don’t know from the club (where I will start yet), but I’d like to play well and make it up to Double-A. I know Jordan Lawlar pretty well and I know he had a great first (full pro) season with the Diamondbacks. Made it up to Double-A and I’d like to accomplish that. Put myself in a great spot for the next year to make the big league team. That is my goal, to jump as many levels as possible and I’m looking forward to it.”
Click here to read the story from earlier in this space with Holliday. The entry includes a link to a video interview.