O's welcome No. 1 overall pick Jackson Holliday

Baltimore agrees with top pick to record deal for high school player

July 27th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- Thirty-seven months sat between the Orioles and two very similar settings: Mike Elias, seated on a dais afront the auxiliary clubhouse in the basement of Camden Yards, introducing the No. 1 overall pick from the just-completed Draft to the public. Each of their arrivals -- in 2019 and in 2022 -- injected a jolt of excitement into the franchise.

The backdrops were far different.

In officially welcoming Holliday to the fold before Wednesday’s 6-4 loss in 10 innings to the Rays, signing him to his professional contract, Elias and the Orioles bring aboard a highly rated, potentially franchise-altering Draft pick at a time when the organization writ large is in a far healthier position than the last time it did exactly that.

“It felt like we were just kind of starting something, and [Rutschman] was a big piece of a big project we were trying to build,” said Elias, the club’s executive vice president and general manager. “And I look now, and this has a totally different feeling to me, adding Jackson's talent right now. Our organization, I think, is in the healthiest spot it's been in in a very long time.”

It helps when you consider the player they brought aboard. Holliday, a prep shortstop out of Stillwater (Okla.) High School, was seen as someone with the highest ceiling in the Draft, a “potential star” who plays the game’s toughest defensive position -- save for catcher, which Rutschman already holds down -- while boasting a maturity and confidence well beyond his 18 years of age.

And his goal now? Make it to the Majors in “two years or less.”

“It's awesome to be able to get into an organization that is heading in such a great direction,” Holliday said. “I'm hoping that I can get here fast and contribute in a good way. I'm very excited to get in and start playing and getting to meet all these guys.”

The Orioles signed Holliday for an $8.19 million signing bonus, a record for a high school player, a source told MLB Pipeline's Jim Callis. Pen was put to paper early Wednesday afternoon. Then Holliday took batting practice on the field -- hammering a ball over 100 mph off the right-field wall along the way -- and received an introduction to the fans.

Holliday, in Baltimore for the first time since he shagged balls for his father, seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday, was flanked by friendly faces in an unfamiliar place. Joining him were his parents, Matt and Leslee, his girlfriend, Chloe, his sister, Gracyn, and his brothers, Ethan, an imminent Draft prospect, and Reed, who was wearing the Orioles’ patented Home Run Chain during the entire press conference.

Also present were Rutschman and current broadcaster Ben McDonald, the three No. 1 overall picks in Orioles history. They know what pressure comes with being taken first overall and what’s required to make it to the big leagues.

As does Jackson’s dad -- at least the second part. Jackson bested his father, a seventh-round pick of the Rockies in 1998, in drafting standards. But it was those experiences of Matt taking Jackson through big league clubhouses that helped shape the youngster into what he is today.

“I'm not worried about his character,” said Matt Holliday, brandishing an Orioles cap. “I just think that the continual work and not sort of paying attention to all the social media, the chatter. Keep your circle tight and just play ball and be a good teammate and continue to have that passion like you did when you were a kid.”

“It comes with some pressure,” Jackson said, “but luckily enough, I've got a good foundation in my family, and I'm just going to handle it like I have everything -- just play hard and work out and try to be the best player that I can be.”

Holliday’s career will start in the Florida Complex League, where he’s set to arrive as soon as Thursday, and he could remain there the entire season, Elias said. There he’ll link up with a player development staff that has helped turn the Orioles’ farm system into the best in baseball, as well as connect with top pitching prospect , rehabbing from his right lat strain, and other highly-regarded members of the O’s farm system.

There, a continued excitement will build nearly 900 miles away from Baltimore’s city limits.

“I mean, they have the No. 1 farm system. I'm excited to get in and start learning from people that know more than me and get better,” Holliday said. “… I'm very, very excited to start playing. It's been a little bit since I've been able to compete on the baseball field.”

As much as Holliday’s arrival might come with less external pressure given the Orioles’ elevation in competitiveness already, his standing remains a centerpiece of the organization’s future. A torrid senior season on the prep circuit in Oklahoma elevated him from possible late-first-round pick to the No. 1 overall selection. The head on the shoulders was just as significant.

“I didn't really expect to be sitting in this situation this time last summer,” said Ken Guthrie, the Orioles’ scout based in Texas-Oklahoma who signed Holliday. “ … From a scouting perspective, you watch the very small things that happen not only between the lines, but outside the lines. … With Jackson, I had the confidence in that. He just really handled himself like a big leaguer as an 18-year-old and with that, it just gives you the confidence to kind of go in there and have the faith enough to fight for that kid and say this is the guy that we should take.”

The excitement is still palpable, harkening back to 2019. Members of the Orioles’ front office stood on the Camden Yards’ flag court in right field, watching Holliday take batting practice. Scott Boras, the well-known baseball agent, was present for the festivities and seated next to Holliday for the press conference.

There’s fanfare associated with Holliday. And the Orioles feel more prepared for the tidal wave still to come.

“Looking back on the last 10 years of being involved in amateur scouting, he kind of ranks up there, for me, with a lot of the high school shortstops that have gone really high in the Draft, and I think that he's got that kind of potential,” Elias said. “ … If he hits like we think he's going to and he gets good fortune and health, he's, I think, going to be one of the impact players in the league.”