One very important and also very interesting question facing the Orioles – and no doubt for fans a very exciting question – is when will the club bring baseball’s No. 1 ranked prospect, infielder Jackson Holliday, to the big leagues?
Will he have a real shot to make the Orioles out of spring training, or will he need more Triple-A time than the 18 regular-season games and four playoff games he played in for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides?
Holliday hit .267 with a .796 OPS for Norfolk to cap a remarkable year where he played at four levels and overall hit .323/.442/.499/.941 with 30 doubles, nine triples, 12 homers, 24 steals, 154 hits, 101 walks, 113 runs and 75 RBIs.
“Yeah, I’ve got no complaints," Holliday said via a Zoom call in late September on the day he was named the Orioles' Minor League Player of the Year, winning the Brooks Robinson Award. He had earlier been named Baseball America’s Player of the Year for the entire minor leagues.
"This year has gone about as well as I could possibly imagine. My goal was Double-A, and to make it to Triple-A is quite something. It’s been quite a year," said Holliday and that might be understating it.
He finished the year leading all of minor league baseball in runs and was fifth in on-base percentage, tied for fifth in walks and ranked 11th in hits.
During my recent interview with O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, I asked about Holliday. Does the organization have to make decisions this winter about when he will make the roster before they decide on the infielders that will make up the roster next year?
“I think any time you’re in Triple-A and he finished there – he did not graduate Triple-A in 2023, but he played okay there – that puts you into the conversation when it comes to next season’s plans. Anyone who is playing well in Triple-A and that you like organizationally, that enters them into conversations on how to plan the 2024 major league roster. I don’t think he is an exception to that.
“The other factor in his particular case, is he’s so young. Just a winter offseason at age 19 going into age 20 (he turns 20 Dec. 4), a lot of can happen for a kid that age developmentally. Some things can happen negatively, but usually there is positive development when you are 19 going on 20, so I can't wait to see what he looks like in spring training. And that is really where we are leaving it.”
So, this will go into spring training before any final decisions are made on Holliday?
“Exactly,” Elias said.
Holliday, when he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2022 MLB draft, was the first O’s high school position player they selected with their top pick since Manny Machado was taken No. 3 overall in 2010. Like Machado, Holliday also rose to Double-A by age 19. The year Machado got to Bowie in 2012, he ended that season in the majors while Holliday ended his 2023 year with Norfolk, going 3-for-17 in the playoffs with a homer.
It wasn't all rosy for Holliday during the season. In June he struggled with High-A Aberdeen, batting .226 with a .702 OPS for the month. He's often showed maturity beyond his year and Holliday did when he discussed his play in June last summer while at Bowie.
“Definitely helpful,” Holliday said of his own struggles that month. “I think failure is definitely important, it’s very important. Yeah, there were some games when I was hitting the ball hard, but right at people. And some days where I couldn’t even touch the ball. So, to overcome that and come through it is very important. Very valuable.
“I think I’ve gotten better at (dealing with) it. Just taking it at-bat to at-bat versus game-to-game was very helpful. Sometimes I struck out twice to start the game and ended the game with three hits. That is something I am going to take in and continue to work on.”
But his O's Player of the Year Zoom call he noted how he will head to spring training this year under different circumstances than last February in Sarasota.
"I’m in a different position than last spring training," he said. "Last spring was awesome and such an unbelievable experience I don’t think I would be here without it. But it’s definitely going to be a little different next year, having a chance to hopefully make the club out of spring is my goal. If that doesn’t happen, whatever is the plan, I’ll be ready for it."