Orioles select Jackson Holliday with first pick in draft (updated with fourth pick)

The Orioles had five players on their board through the final weeks leading to tonight’s MLB Draft. They stuck to it, deliberated with scouts and front office personnel in a series of meetings, had a Zoom call with manager Brandon Hyde to bring him into the loop and settled on Oklahoma prep shortstop Jackson Holliday.

Holliday committed to Oklahoma State, but he’s ready to turn professional. Like his father, former major league outfielder and seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday.

The left-handed hitting Jackson, who’s 18 and listed at 6-feet-1 and 175 pounds, set a national record with 89 hits in 41 games at Stillwater High School, passing J.T. Realmuto, while batting .685 with 29 doubles, six triples, 17 home runs, 79 RBIs, 74 runs scored, a .749 on-base percentage and a 1.392 slugging percentage.

He has a knack for putting the barrel on the ball, as noted just about everywhere.

It's no wonder that Holliday was named Oklahoma's prep player of the year.

Holliday was the No. 2 overall draft prospect by MLB.com and No. 3 by Baseball America. The four-year starter batted .500 (62-for-124) with 16 doubles, six triples, six home runs, 57 RBIs, 54 runs scored and 19 stolen bases in 37 games as a junior and was named to USA Baseball’s 18U National Team in 2021.

Various mock drafts kept shifting on the Orioles’ decision, much to the delight of executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, who never wants to show his hand.

“I am very proud and happy with the result that we got today, and also the entire process and the work of all our scouts,” Elias said. “Our player development staff was heavily involved, our entire analytics department, just every corner of baseball operations was involved in making this selection, and we couldn’t be happier with the player and the person we’re getting. And also, the profile of the player.

“He’s a five-tool shortstop, left-handed bat. We project him to remain as a shortstop defensively. But he does it all. He throws, he’s a plus runner, he’s going to hit and hit for power, he’s got one of the best swings in the draft, and he’s got everything in front of him, and a tremendous family, and a support system that will work in concert with our people to get the most out of Jackson in his career.

“I think this is, obviously with the No. 1 overall pick, a major addition to what is already the top farm system in baseball, and what is now a young, talented major league team on the come. But I also think that he’s going to be a big addition to the culture that we’ve built and our players have built in the Orioles’ minor and major league systems together.”

Elias didn’t know who the Orioles would take until late in the process, but he also wasn’t going to drop any hints beyond confirming that the list had been whittled to five.

The expectation all along was that the team held the most interest in Holliday, Georgia prep outfielder Druw Jones, IMG Academy outfielder Elijah Green, Georgia prep infielder Termarr Johnson and Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee. That was accurate.

There also was some industry buzz attached to LSU third baseman/outfielder Jacob Berry and Chipola College third baseman Cam Collier, but they weren’t in the running.

The Diamondbacks grabbed Jones at No. 2, the Pirates selected Johnson at No. 4, the Nationals took Green at No. 5 and the Twins selected Lee at No. 8.

Elias didn’t specify exactly when the draft room agreed on Holliday, but said it was “a very difficult decision in a good way.”

“I would liken it to deciding what to order at a five-star restaurant,” he said. “This was a very good class. We boiled it down to five players, we had advocates and rationale for taking any one of the five players, but ultimately you’re only allowed to come home with one of them, and we picked our favorite one.

“Without getting too behind the curtains with how the business of the draft works, this is always a final decision that is very, very late, but this is exactly how we hoped things would unfold, and I couldn’t be happier with it.”

Elias wasn’t going to draft based on need, which meant there was no reason to dismiss the possibility of an outfielder going one-one simply because they took Arkansas’ Heston Kjerstad in 2020 and Sam Houston State’s Colton Cowser last year. And no reason to dismiss an infielder because the system already has Triple-A Norfolk’s Gunnar Henderson, who played in last night’s All-Star Futures Game, and Jordan Westburg among their top five prospects.

They liked Louisville catcher Henry Davis last year – he went first overall to the Pirates – despite having Adley Rutschman in their system. This isn’t the NFL.

CBS Sports had the Orioles selecting three different players in three mocks – Holliday, Jones, and most recently Johnson. Other sites did similar shuffling.

"We had arguments for any of these five guys, but this was a player that we were all happy with," Elias said. "He was a 'yes,' so to speak, for anybody involved in this process, and ultimately he was our favorite choice, and this is the way we went tonight. And I think it's going to bear out very well.

"I think he has a tremendous balance of floor and ceiling, which is why he was the first-overall pick, and that's why these guys go this high most of the time, because they bring a blend of risk and reward. I think the upside for him is enormous. It's a potential star playing shortstop, batting in the middle of the order, doing so for a very long time. In some regard, I don't know that the ceiling gets much higher than somebody with that profile. But also, with the five tools that he brings to the table, with the defensive position that he plays, with the off-field work ethic we know is there, and the presence of both a power and hit tool, I think even if his development doesn't go perfectly, there's a lot of different productive pathways this will go down."

The choice in the draft room wasn't unanimous, but "it never is," Elias said.

"I've never been the part of a draft room where you had 50 people up there, you're just not going to get that. But this was a player that anyone involved deemed worthy of selecting."

Elias also noted how among the public rankings available, Holliday was No. 1 or not far from it.

"I think we lined up what sounds like the rest of the industry," he said.

An industry that marveled at Holliday's progress in a relatively short amount of time. The Orioles didn't focus on him during their winter meetings. Then, the physical gains that he made over the winter enabled his swing to come together in a more postured, balanced way.

"His performance shot through the roof, and the speed and power ticked up a bit," Elias said. When the local scouts in the Midwest started going in the early part of the spring to see him, it was like there was a fire alarm in the scouting industry, and we certainly poured in there very heavily from that point forward. We have two area scouts who live in Oklahoma, Ken Guthrie and Jim Richardson, they were on top of it, and we got our people in there. And I'd say by late March, he was firmly in the mix, and we started applying every evaluating resource that we have toward following him. And I managed to see him in three games and a workout, spent a lot of time with the family personally, and saw everything I needed to see."

Holliday said he didn't know the Orioles were selecting him "as they were saying it, so that was kind of cool."

"My dad didn't really tell me. He was on the phone (with representative Scott Boras) and then he was like, 'All right, just going to find out,'" Holliday said. "So that was really, really neat and it's something that I'll probably never forget.

"I didn't know it was a possibility, to be honest, going into the high school season. I just wanted to help my team win and hopefully put myself in a good position headed into today. It's hard to explain what it means. It's like every video game you play, you're the first pick, so that's kind of what it felt like. It's something that I'll never forget and it's a true honor."

The Orioles held the first-overall pick for the third time in club history. They selected LSU pitcher Ben McDonald in 1989 and Rutschman out of Oregon State in 2019.

Holliday is the first high school player chosen by the Orioles on their initial turn since pitcher Grayson Rodriguez in 2018. Shortstop Manny Machado was the last prep position player in 2010.

Ryan Mountcastle, then a shortstop, was the 36th overall selection in 2015, after the Orioles used their first pick on Florida State outfielder DJ Stewart.

Holliday "does so much well defensively," Elias said. "He's got an above-average arm, he's a plus runner as a baserunner, but the speed also translates to his athletic movements on the defensive side of the ball, and he's got a very technically correct throwing stroke and a technically correct way of approaching ground balls. He's an 18-year-old kid, so he's got refinement ahead of him, but there's a tremendous base of fundamentals to go along with elite physical tools, much of which came on this spring.

"He made an unusually big jump from the summer to the spring, and just laid down a dominant high school season and looked like the best player in the draft all spring, so that's why we took him. I think anytime that you have an offensive shortstop like this, especially a left-handed hitter in a draft class, you take it very, very seriously, and ultimately we decided to pull the trigger."

The front office and other departments are eager to get Holliday situated within a system that's already rife with legitimate prospects, including the many infielders who land in top 30 rankings.

"I'm hopeful that Jackson's got a good chance to move efficiently through the minors and join this group that we see," Elias said. "I've seen high school picks that move just as fast, if not faster, than college players. It just depends. Everybody's different. But this was the prospect that we wanted to add to our pipeline. And when you're a shortstop, it's hard to find yourself blocked."

Elias is speaking from experience with Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman in Houston.

"We found a way to get both of those great players in the lineup in one way, shape or form," he said.

The Orioles must get Holliday signed by early August, which Elias didn’t believe would be an issue. They can persuade him to skip Oklahoma State, where his uncle, Josh, leads the program and his father works as an assistant.

"He was very excited tonight," Holliday said of his uncle. "I think he'll be fine."

The night isn’t over for the Orioles, who also have the 33rd, 42nd and 67th selections to announce later tonight. The 33rd comes in the Competitive Balance A round and the 67th in Competitive Balance Round B following their spring trade with the Marlins that subtracted relievers Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott.

The third round begins Monday with the Orioles again slotted first, the 81st overall selection in the draft.

The Orioles are holding $16,924,000 in their bonus pool. The first selection is slotted at $8,842,200.

MASNsports.com's Steve Melewski will post an article later tonight with more from Holliday.

Update: The Orioles selected University of California outfielder Dylan Beavers with the 33rd-overall pick in the Competitive Balance A round.

Beavers, 20, is a left-handed hitter who slashed .291/.427/.634 this season with 16 doubles, three triples, 17 home runs, 50 RBIs, 51 walks and 54 strikeouts in 272 plate appearances. MLBPipeline.com ranked him as the 22nd-best prospect and compared him to Christian Yelich. Kyle Tucker is another comp.

MLBPipeline.com writes that he’s “the proverbial five-tool player” when he’s locked in. He’s also referred to as an above-average runner despite being 6-foot-4.

In three collegiate seasons, Beavers hit .294/.409/.615 with 27 doubles, five triples, 36 home runs and 102 RBIs in 557 plate appearances. He’s played all three outfield positions, with most of his experience in right.

Beavers tied for the Pac-12 Conference lead with 18 home runs as a redshirt freshman and earned invites to the Cape Cod League and USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team.

Baseball America writes:

“Beavers has loud tools, but his hitting ability is a question. He constantly tinkers with his swing mechanics and struggles to be on time. His crowded setup and tight hand placement prevent him from getting the barrel out front and need to be revamped entirely. Beavers’ electric hand speed and fast, whippy swing give him a chance to be a below-average hitter if he makes the needed adjustments, but he presently misses too many hittable pitches. Beavers needs to overhaul his swing and stance, but he has a chance to be an everyday outfielder who hits .240 with 30 home runs if he makes those adjustments.”

Update II: The Orioles used their second-round pick, 42nd overall, on Clemson third baseman Max Wagner, a 20-year-old, right-handed hitter who slashed .370/.496/.852 this season with 15 doubles, a triple, 27 home runs, 76 RBIs, 45 walks and 51 strikeouts in 259 plate appearances. He’s a Green Bay native.

Wagner played only two seasons at Clemson and was sophomore-eligible. He batted .214/.305/.345 in 35 games in 2021 with five doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs.

MLBPipeline.com ranked Wagner as the No. 66 prospect. He was the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Player of the Year after tying Khalil Greene’s school home run record of 27.

Wagner began this season as a defensive replacement at third base. He was in the lineup by the end of February.

Update III: The Orioles selected University of Florida outfielder Jud Fabian in the Competitive Balance Round B, the 67th-overall pick, and they’re finally done for tonight.

The Red Sox drafted him in the second round last year, the 40th-overall pick, but he didn’t sign – reportedly because they wouldn’t pay a $3 million bonus.

The Orioles wanted him last year, missing by one pick, and got him tonight.

Fabian, 21, batted .239/.414/.598 in 66 games and 310 plate appearances, with 10 doubles, one triple, 24 home runs, 55 RBIs, 62 walks and 69 strikeouts.

The Orioles got the pick from the Marlins in the trade of relievers Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott.

Primarily a center fielder, Fabian played four seasons at Florida and batted .246/.384/.541 with 35 doubles, 56 home runs and 140 RBIs in 867 plate appearances.


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