At just 19, Holliday's camp presence 'not the norm'

February 21st, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- isn’t your typical 19-year-old. He was raised around baseball as the son of an All-Star outfielder. At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, he’s growing to be a talented player in his own right. Mature for his age, he’s already engaged, having popped the question to his girlfriend, Chloe, during a family vacation in Mexico over the winter.

And despite having only 20 games of professional baseball experience, Holliday is participating in his first big league Spring Training -- even though at this time last year, the shortstop was still in his senior year at Stillwater (Okla.) High School.

After getting selected by the Orioles with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft last July, Holliday was included among the club’s list of non-roster invitees for Major League camp this spring, which was announced early this month. Was he surprised?

“I was hoping for one,” said Holliday, the No. 12 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline. “I wouldn’t have been surprised if I didn’t, but I’m very glad that I did, and I’m looking to make the most of it.”

Jackson Holliday signs autographs at Spring Training.Jake Rill/

It’s uncommon for a player fresh out of high school to have a locker in a clubhouse filled with Major League veterans just seven months after being drafted. Holliday got only a small taste of what the pros are like in 2022, slashing .297/.489/.422 with one homer, five doubles and nine RBIs across eight games in the Florida Complex League and 12 with Single-A Delmarva. That barely even qualifies as a cup of coffee in the baseball world.

However, O’s general manager Mike Elias knew it would be the right decision to extend Holliday an invite to big league camp.

“We thought he could handle it; we thought he was ready for it,” Elias said. “He had a really good debut and did well in A ball and seems to be a very mature kid. So we thought it would be a good experience for him, even though that’s not the norm.”

Holliday reported to Sarasota earlier than many of the players in the Orioles’ organization, participating in the team’s development camp from Feb. 6-14. He and four other top prospects in the system worked with Major League staff and instructors before the complex became filled with more proven players.

Since then, the youngsters have stuck around. It’s not an unfamiliar environment for Holliday, considering he went to Spring Training every year when his dad, Matt -- a seven-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger -- was playing in the Majors from 2004-18.

So Holliday wasn’t needing a ton of help understanding what this experience would be like.

“He didn’t really have to tell me much -- to just have fun with it and work hard and get to know these guys, because I’ll be around them for quite a long time,” Holliday said.

Some of the players with whom Holliday has bonded over the past week have included catcher Adley Rutschman (a fellow No. 1 overall Draft pick himself in 2019), infielder Gunnar Henderson (baseball’s No. 1 overall prospect) and outfielder Colton Cowser (the No. 40 overall prospect). That quartet has the potential to be part of the Orioles’ position-player core well into the next decade.

For now, Holliday is just getting to know everybody better, because each face coming into the Spring Training clubhouse was a new one to him. They’re facing off in ping-pong and going out for putt-putt and bowling. There’s also friendly competition during workout drills.

Even if Holliday is easily the youngest of the 71 players in Orioles big league camp -- Henderson is next at 21 -- he’s blending in well with those who are more experienced.

“I’ve been so impressed watching him,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It doesn’t look like a kid that just was in high school a year ago. It’s special ability, and he’s really talented.”

Later this spring, Holliday will be reassigned to Minor League camp. But Hyde is planning to insert him into some Grapefruit League action (which begins Saturday) before that time arrives.

That experience should be quite valuable for Holliday, who isn’t likely to reach the Majors until about 2025, with multiple levels still to climb in the Minors. But in addition to learning, he’s enjoying the chances to spend time with his potential future teammates and isn’t taking it for granted.

“It’s been great to be around all the young guys, and to get to be around them every day,” Holliday said. “It’s been pretty sweet.”