Holliday: "It's pretty neat to be in this position"

jackson holliday

SARASOTA, Fla. – Jackson Holliday isn’t in Orioles camp to soak in the atmosphere, get acclimated to the coaching staff and wait to be summoned into manager Brandon Hyde’s office with news that he’s reassigned to the minor league side.

Holliday could sit down again with Hyde and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, but this time to be congratulated for making the team.

Only a few months past his 20th birthday.

As the No. 1 prospect in baseball.

“It’s a little bit more exciting, right?” Holliday said this morning in his first media scrum at his locker. “You get a chance to make the team. But just trying to take it day by day and enjoy these guys and enjoy getting better.”

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A bit about the process of developing Jackson Holliday's bat

Jackson Holliday futures game

Even when you are the No. 1 overall MLB Draft pick and rise to become the No. 1 prospect in baseball, the process to improve is still important, even with a driven player with massive talent.

And so, this is true for the Orioles’ Jackson Holliday, who begins a bid next week to make the club’s Opening Day roster.

On July 17, 2022, the Orioles made Holliday the draft’s No. 1 overall pick. Then the kid from Oklahoma went out and put up a .911 OPS in his first 20 pro games between the Florida Complex League and Single-A Delmarva. He walked twice as many times as he struck out. But for a young man still growing into his body and growing into what his future power will produce, he hit one homer in 64 at-bats.

So, in that quest to make even the best better, the Orioles sent coaches Cody Asche and Anthony Villa to his home that winter for some work on improving exit velocity and launch angles that would later in his career turn some deep fly balls into hits and doubles into balls that could go over the fence.

Last season, this impressive young man that turned 20 on Dec. 4, played at four levels, hit 12 homers over 477 at-bats and rose to become the top prospect in the sport.

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Prospects ranking season winds down

Basallo

As yet another top 100 prospects list was published recently by a major outlet and then yet another - by ESPN.com first and then The Athletic – once again Jackson Holliday of the Orioles was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the sport.

This is long since no surprise as he ended last season atop prospects lists and will begin this year No. 1 via Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com and the two listed above.

Just yesterday, Holliday was among the list of 20 non-roster invitees heading to spring training, which begins in Sarasota, Fla. next week.  

While the Orioles list of players via Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com, ESPN and The Athletic is significant, what is most impressive is that most of their top 100 players are really top 50.

Of the six Orioles that were rated top 100 by Baseball America, three were in the top 25 and five were in the top 41. They are down to five now with DL Hall at No. 93 now a Brewer. Of the six rated top 100 by MLBPipeline, five were top 32. They are down to five there with Joey Ortiz at No. 63 now a Brewer. Of the seven ranked by ESPN (six minus Ortiz), five are top 50. The Athletic lists three among the top 27. 

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Holliday, Basallo, Mayo among O's spring invites (Hays arbitration note)

Basallo

The Orioles have a star-studded prospects list and the No. 1 farm in baseball, and their top three prospects are among their list of 20 spring training non-roster invitees announced today by the club.

The Orioles report on Feb. 14 to Sarasota, Fla., with their first workout for pitchers and catchers set for Feb. 15 and with the first full-squad workout to be held on Feb. 20.

Infielder Jackson Holliday, the No. 1 prospect in baseball, gets the expected NRI along with the club's No. 2 prospect, catcher Samuel Basallo, and their No. 3 (as ranked by Baseball America), infielder Coby Mayo.

The No. 4 and No. 5 prospects - outfielders Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad, who are already on the 40-man roster - will also report to Sarasota. All 40-man roster players join the club for spring training along with the NRIs.

The club recently dealt its No. 6 and No. 7 prospects, per Baseball America - DL Hall and Joey Ortiz - to Milwaukee for right-handed starter Corbin Burnes. The O's No. 8 prospect, infielder Connor Norby, is also among the non-roster invites. 

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Akin on O's going from losing to winning and a coach talks about Holliday

Keegan Akin

The year that the Orioles drafted lefty Keegan Akin out of Western Michigan University, in 2016, they made the playoffs before their season ended in the American League Wild Card Game in Toronto.

A couple of years later, Akin was part of an O’s organization trending the wrong way, one that had seasons of 115, 108 and 110 losses. But within all that losing there were a few bright spots that Akin said told him better days could be coming.

“Just watching the younger guys when we drafted them,” he recalled Saturday during Birdland Caravan. “The first time I saw Grayson (Rodriguez) – I watched him pitch in Florida somewhere when he was 19. Just standing there and thinking, ‘This kid is 19 throwing 100 (mph) and he has five pitches. Where do you get these guys?’

“And then we started bringing more in and more. And then Adley (Rutschman) showed up and (Gunnar) Henderson showed up. Yeah, think we are doing OK.

“It is awesome. I was talking to a fan today about that. It’s crazy in that I’ve been in this org since 2016 and to see things change that fast. I know that was eight years ago, but in baseball terms we had some really bad years and turned it around pretty quickly. It is obviously rewarding and a heck of a lot more fun now to be on the other side and have that part behind us.”

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Ortiz shows he is more than a glove-first prospect, plus other Birdland Caravan notes

Joey Ortiz greys

Orioles infield prospect Joey Ortiz, who made his major league debut in the 2023 season, may have finally shed that “glove-first” label. While his glove is still strong and he gets 70 fielding grades and 55 for arm strength by Baseball America, he also produced an .885 OPS in 88 games at Triple-A Norfolk last summer.

“Yeah, definitely, I feel like my whole career I’ve been labeled as glove first,” Ortiz said Friday at the Warehouse during Birdland Carvan. “Now for my bat to finally come through is nice. Been a lot of work, trusting in the coaches and what they are helping me with and me believing in myself as well.”

Ortiz hit .212 in 34 plate appearances over three stints with the Orioles. A true shortstop who has also played some second and third base, he said he’s up for it if the club needs him in a utility role this coming season.

He put up a batting line of .321/.378/.507/.885 for the Tides with 30 doubles, four triples, nine homers and 58 RBIs.

Rated as the No. 95 prospect in the 2023 debut of the Baseball America top 100, he is now the O’s No. 7 prospect. They have six players in the new top 100, so Ortiz just missed making the list.

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Mansolino on "incredibly exciting" young Orioles infield talent and competition

Gunnar Henderson

Tony Mansolino holds the same curiosity. Being closer to the subject doesn’t offer an ounce of clarity.

The Orioles’ third base coach doubles as its infield instructor. He works with a talented young group that’s certain to expand with more prospect arrivals in 2024.

He can do the math.

An overflow is upon us.

Gunnar Henderson was voted Rookie of the Year in the American League. Jordan Westburg, another high-round draft pick, moved between second and third base. Defensive wiz Joey Ortiz made his major league debut and routinely is chosen as the best-fielding shortstop in the organization. Top overall prospect Jackson Holliday could break camp with the team or join it shortly after the season begins. Coby Mayo is threatening to bash down the door.

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It will be something front and center throughout spring training

Jackson Holliday futures jersey

It will be, barring a real surprise, the most interesting aspect to track in spring training. And that is, can Jackson Holliday, who turned 20 on Dec. 4, make the O’s Opening Day roster?

Not only can he, but I would put the odds now in his favor.

Before an interview session during the Winter Meetings, I would have probably called it 50-50 at the very best, but then there was the quote heard ‘round Nashville and the one that got all Baltimore reporters’ attention at that event.

"It's definitely a very strong possibility,” Elias said during an interview session in Nashville when asked directly if Holliday could make it on OD? “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.”

And everyone who said he didn’t tear up Triple-A, it was just 22 games counting the playoffs and his .796 OPS was solid. Make no mistake, he more than held his own and looked like he belonged.

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A few facts and opinions about prospects and the O's playoff chances

jackson holliday

Today let’s throw out a few more facts about the Orioles and drop in an opinion or two to discuss them. Here we go.

Fact: Juan Soto made the majors after just 122 games on the farm and Jackson Holliday has played 145 minor league games through the 2023 season.

Fact and opinions: It’s true, and Baseball America’s JJ Cooper made that point this week when discussing if Holliday could start the 2024 season on the O’s roster. “Juan Soto was way less experienced when he stepped into the Nationals lineup than Jackson Holliday is right now," Cooper said.

First point here is that just because the great Soto did it doesn’t mean anyone can. But Holliday is not just anyone. This week he became the third Oriole in three years to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason Baseball America top 100 list after Adley Rutschman in 2022 and Gunnar Henderson last year.

But Cooper, as he usually does, makes a very good point.

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A little look ahead to Orioles spring training

Coby-Mayo-Bowie-at-bat-white

The latest spring training update, with the report date for pitchers and catchers and the first workouts, can transport a person to Sarasota without needing an airline reservation.

Shovels filled with snow and ice bring that same person back to reality. But at least there are no lines at security.

I have a few more weeks until I need to start packing and issuing the same reminder that it’s spring training and not spring break. Don’t get them confused.

The alarm is set early just about every day for six weeks. It’s work, I tell you.

Oh sure, it’s sunny and warm and baseball. The restaurant choices are more expansive than Shakespeare’s vocabulary. But thou shalt never truly know the depths of my despair over learning that Yume Sushi on Main Street has closed permanently.

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After three straight years with the Baseball America No. 1 player, could O's extend streak?

basallo

When I interviewed Baseball America’s JJ Cooper this week to talk about the Orioles making history in the BA top 100, becoming the first team to have three No. 1 players in three straight years, he had an interesting comment.

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

To that point, many in Birdland may have thought “unless the O’s Samuel Basallo (No. 10 right now) makes it four in a row for the Orioles this time next year.”

And that was my follow up to Cooper in that interview. Well, what about a Baltimore four-peat this time with Basallo in 2025?

“It is absolutely a possibility,” said Cooper noting that several players ranked ahead of Basallo currently in their new top 10 are likely to graduate from list eligibility during the new season and he could move up several spots based on that alone. 

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

Jackson Holliday

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.

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MLB execs survey was a real positive for the Orioles

Adley Rutschman

We already knew that the Orioles produce young talent about as well as any team in baseball and that the club's farm system is No. 1 in the sport. But it's nice when the industry provides further confirmation of all this.

And this week, the Orioles got further confirmation in a four-part series of articles on MLB.com and MLBPipeline.com. The outlet surveyed from office execs, members of scouting and analytics and player development.

And just about everywhere you looked, the Orioles were doing pretty well.

In the first part of this series the execs were asked who will win the AL and NL Rookie of the Year awards? Last year they tabbed Gunnar Henderson of the Orioles and Arizona's Corbin Carroll to win, and both did in 2023.

This time the execs provided 36 percent of their AL votes for outfielder Evan Carter of Texas and 30 percent to O's prospect Jackson Holliday. The Orioles Heston Kjerstad was listed in the also getting votes category.

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Because You Asked - The New Empire

Jackson Holliday

A month has passed since the last big mailbag reveal, when blue smoke told us that the Orioles would make a trade with the Royals.

Welcome to the Orioles world, Jonathan Heasley.

The deadline to sign arbitration-eligible players or exchange salary figures was last night, followed by the start of the international signing period on Monday. The three-day Birdland Caravan begins Jan. 25. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training by the middle of February.

Heasley could make another new friend before reporting to camp. The Orioles still haven’t acquired a starting pitcher.

I won’t wait until it happens to respond to your questions. Let’s do it now, with a second batch held for later.

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Submitting some early Orioles predictions

henderson homers v NYM

The countdown to spring training is gaining momentum. The offseason is melting away as the temperature drops, forming a Frosty puddle.

I’m about to get busy, busy, busy.

Mocks and predictions are popular ways to keep fans engaged, with the disclaimer that everything can change with one or two transactions.

The Orioles and their division rivals aren’t done constructing their rosters. I don’t own a crystal ball, but I highly recommend Dan Aykroyd’s Crystal Skull vodka. It's first on my list, but it’s harder to find than a usable Erik Bedard quote.

But I digress …

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Some potential Orioles non-roster invite spring storylines

Basallo

The media crowd around Jackson Holliday’s locker will have more layers than an onion on his first day of availability in camp. Must be his appeal.

(You see what I did there.)

Holliday was a good story last spring. The first-overall draft pick with the youthful face and famous father. Everyone wanted to see him play, and he stuck around much longer than anticipated.

It turned out to be more than a courtesy look and a chance to soak in the environment. Holliday wasn’t reassigned to the minor league side until March 14, after batting .385 with a .991 OPS.

The Orioles announced 30 non-roster invites on Feb. 2 and expanded the list later that day after outrighting reliever Darwinzon Hernández. The camp roster held 71 players, with an overflow in the auxiliary clubhouse.

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Leftovers for breakfast

GettyImages-1526565028-1

The Orioles haven’t announced their non-roster invites to major league spring training, but it must be on this month’s agenda. A list that can be updated later depending on future transactions.

They didn’t need to protect Jackson Holliday, Connor Norby and Coby Mayo in the Rule 5 draft, with the latter two eligible next winter. All three could be added to the 40-man roster this year to eliminate that task.

They were camp invites last year, with no chance of heading north for Opening Day. Holliday seems to have the best shot this spring despite his age and limited experience at Triple-A Norfolk. Norby and Mayo are waiting for their opportunities and hopeful that the Orioles can make room.

Norby is a second baseman with some corner outfield starts. Mayo is a corner infielder who appears blocked by Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg and others at third base and Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan O’Hearn at first.

Mayo also will be working out in right field, a new position for him. Can’t hurt to try it and maybe provide another way to get him on the roster.

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Another round of Orioles questions and curiosities

ortiz shovels orange

Questions and curiosities about the Orioles aren’t limited to a new stadium lease and whether it’s finally OK to report it as done rather than circling back again and risking motion sickness.

I’ve wondered whether Kyle Bradish could build on his breakout season, Jordan Westburg would play more regularly, Cole Irvin would keep bouncing between the rotation and bullpen, and John Means would give the club a full and productive season. I’ve asked for an update on Dillon Tate and whether Seth Johnson would debut next summer.

Here are three more:

How much does Craig Kimbrel have left in the closing tank?

This is fresh, big and quite obvious.

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Orioles mailbag leftovers for breakfast

wells pitches grey

As we approach the Christmas holiday, I’ve decided to serve another batch of leftovers this morning.

Not from Thanksgiving. I’m brave but I also have my limits.

My mailbag is thinner but still could stand to lose a few pounds. Here are some extras from last week, with the usual reminders that I’d rather eat them than edit them.

Also, my mailbag is invited to office parties and yours is given the wrong date and address.

Do you think the acquisition of Craig Kimbrel makes it more likely that Wells starts the season in the rotation?
It might have improved his odds, but he could be destined for the bullpen if the Orioles acquire a starter, which they’re trying to do. New guy, Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, John Means, Dean Kremer. That’s five. Maybe Wells would be pitted against Kremer in camp. And DL Hall isn’t ready to bow out of the competition. Should be fun.

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Taking a look at a few facts with some opinions, too

o'hearn trots @ MIL

Time to take a look at a few facts that came out of the 2023 baseball season and see how some of them may play out in 2024. This is where our opinions come in.

Fact: No. 1-ranked prospect Jackson Holliday has played just one full minor league season and just 145 career games on the farm. He rose four levels last year, but played only 18 regular season games and four more in the playoffs for Triple-A Norfolk. Now he could make the 2024 Opening Day roster for the Orioles.

Opinion: O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias got everyone’s attention at the Winter Meetings when asked if Holliday could make it to Baltimore for Opening Day.

"It's definitely a very strong possibility,” Elias said during an interview session in Nashville. “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.”

As I have written a few times this offseason, sometimes teams just want to “get on with it” with a top prospect. They know the talent is immense and they move the youngster to the majors to complete his development while at the same time helping the big club. Holliday, as talented as he is and as mature as he is for age 20, is about at that point.

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