The No. 1 pick in the Draft always has a lot of expectations heaped upon them. Like it or not, the spotlight on that prospect always burns brighter, with intense scrutiny from the get-go.
Jackson Holliday clearly doesn't mind having all eyes on him, and the harshest critics have to admit that the top selection in the 2022 Draft has far exceeded even the loftiest of hopes. Playing all year at age 19, Holliday began the year with Single-A Delmarva and finished it all the way up with Triple-A Norfolk. That climb, while finishing with a .323/.442/.499 line, is why he was named the 2023 MiLB Hitting Prospect of the Year.
"It's really neat," a typically understated Holliday told MLB.com after learning he was receiving the award. "It was a lot of hard work and a lot of time put into hitting especially, but it's really neat to be able to win that award, and it's quite an honor."
Holliday kicked things off, like most new draftees in their first full season, at the lowest level of full-season ball. But his time in Delmarva would be short-lived. After posting a .396/.522/.660 line over 14 games, the Orioles felt it was time to nudge him up to High-A Aberdeen. That was a hurdle the current No. 1 prospect in baseball would also clear, 57 games later. With a .314/.452/.488 line in the South Atlantic League, he was on the move again, setting a goal he had for himself when the year began.
"I was trying to make it to Double-A, obviously have a good season, that's always the goal," Holliday said.
He wasn't done. He posted a .928 OPS in 26 games with Bowie following that promotion, and the infielder packed his bags again, reaching his fourth level of the Minors when he joined Triple-A Norfolk -- which led to the "When will Jackson Holliday questions reach Baltimore?" questions getting even louder.
The International League was the first place Holliday scuffled at all, but he made adjustments, continued to get on base and finished with a .267/.396/.400 line in 18 games, then helped the Tides win the Triple-A Championship, as a teenager.
"It was kind of a whirlwind, to be honest with you," said Holliday, who also stole 24 bases and had 159 wRC+. "Shoot, Aberdeen and Delmarva don't even feel real. It's been pretty crazy, a lot of baseball, but I've enjoyed it. I've had a lot of really great teammates who made it easy."
Holliday's work ethic and makeup stand out as much as his considerable tools. His father Matt, a seven-time All-Star himself, hopped on the Triple-A Championship broadcast on Saturday and said that's how his son has always been wired.
"The thing that he's always done, since he was two or three years old, he's always loved to practice, he's always loved to be at the field," he said. "From an early age, I knew he had a passion and love for baseball. I didn't know he'd be a prospect and get drafted first overall, but I always knew that this is what he wanted to do for his career and in his life."
Norfolk manager Buck Britton only had Holliday for a short while at the end of the 2023 season, though he was around the phenom during his first Spring Training. Britton has seen a ton of top prospects come through Norfolk during this Orioles youth movement and feels Holliday belongs in the conversation with Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, last year's Hitting Prospect of the Year.
"He's right there," Britton said. "I'm really excited to see what he's going to look like even a year from now. The skill set and makeup are off the charts. Nobody is more deserving to be the No. 1 pick or the top prospect and have the humility that this kid has. It's really impressive."
Case in point: Of all the incredible numbers Holliday put up in 2023, the one that jumps off the page for him more than any other is his 113 runs scored, a stat even the most talented player needs help to accumulate.
"I didn't know I scored the most runs in the Minor Leagues, I thought that was kind of cool, until yesterday," Holliday said. "I like to help the team win and think scoring runs is important. So that was pretty cool."
Holliday's patience and plate discipline might stand out more than anything he did during his meteoric climb. He was one of just eight hitters in all of the Minor Leagues to walk more than 100 times, walking in 17.4 percent of his plate appearances while striking out just 20.3 percent of the time, doing so while having to adjust in a hurry to new levels.
"There's different challenges at each level," said Holliday, who explained that other than changing his load at the plate in Spring Training, he made very few mechanical tweaks all year. "Learning how to control the strike zone and pick the pitches that I want to go on. That's the main thing I noticed going from Double-A to Triple-A. I feel like I'm getting better at it and making adjustments pretty fast."
And for those who still want to scrutinize and wonder about the power after he hit a dozen homers, beware. Holliday has one main objective now that his first full season is complete.
"I'm just getting stronger," Holliday said. "That's my goal for the offseason, to get stronger and be more physically ready for next year."
2022: Gunnar Henderson, Orioles
2021: Anthony Volpe, Yankees
2020: None (COVID)
2019: Luis Robert Jr., White Sox
2018: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
2017: Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves
2016: Alex Bregman, Astros
2015: Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
2014: Kris Bryant, Cubs
2013: Byron Buxton, Twins