O's youngsters ready to roll ... and it's only Day 1

February 25th, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles fans didn’t need a reminder that the future is bright in Baltimore. They’re aware of the wealth of talent coming through the organization. But just in case anybody forgot, Saturday afternoon’s Grapefruit League opener provided a loud, immediate refresher.

crushed a pair of solo homers in a 3-for-3 performance, doubled and scored a run and a plethora of other prospects impressed in the O’s 10-5 win over a Twins split squad at Ed Smith Stadium.

Here are three takeaways from Baltimore’s first game of Spring Training:

1. Kjerstad is crushing the ball everywhere he goes
Fall or spring, Arizona or Florida -- it doesn’t matter. Kjerstad, MLB Pipeline’s No. 80 overall prospect, is impressing with his bat at every ballpark he steps into these days. Last October and November, he raked his way to Arizona Fall League MVP honors. And the 24-year-old outfielder picked right up from there in his Grapefruit League debut.

After getting taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, Kjerstad missed all of ‘21 and the early months of ‘22 due to myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle). So this is his first Spring Training with the Orioles.

Kjerstad swatted solo home runs in the fifth and seventh innings -- the first clanging off the left-field foul pole and immediately following a go-ahead three-run homer by Curtis Terry. Kjerstad nearly went deep a third time in the eighth -- a deep ball hit to left sliced just foul -- but he still slapped a single to right to cap his strong opening performance.

“There’s a lot more to come,” Kjerstad said. “Definitely a good little start, but I’ve got to remain focused. It’s a long year.”

Because he’s missed so much time, Kjerstad hasn’t played above High-A, which is why the Orioles sent him to the Fall League last year to get more at-bats. If he keeps hitting at this rate, he may force his way into the big leagues before the end of 2023.

“He looks amazing, feels great,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “The way he’s swinging the bat so far this spring has been really fun to watch.”

2. Holliday still doesn’t look like he’s only 19
Hyde and general manager Mike Elias have been impressed with Holliday’s maturity, which is why MLB Pipeline’s No. 12 overall prospect was invited to big league camp. Hyde also wanted to get Holliday into Grapefruit action early. That happened in the sixth inning of the opener, as the shortstop entered as a defensive replacement to open the frame.

In the seventh, Holliday came up for his first at-bat and promptly laced a double into right-center field. He showed max effort, losing his helmet while sliding into second base to beat the throw.

Holliday lost his helmet again moments later when he came around to score on a two-run single by Cesar Prieto.

Like Hyde had stated before, Holliday didn’t look like a 19-year-old who was still in high school last spring.

“I think him just soaking in Major League Spring Training games, being around our coaches -- I think it’s all really beneficial for him,” Hyde said. “He showed today what kind of player he’s going to be -- how fast, his speed, and how he’s going to play defense. He’s going to be really, really special.”

3. The youngsters will be the highlights of early spring
The early games of Spring Training have the potential to be among the most entertaining, because prospects such as Kjerstad and Holliday have opportunities to get into the action. Those two weren’t alone in the opening win, either.

Joey Ortiz (MLB Pipeline’s No. 99 overall prospect) had a nice play at shortstop and belted an RBI triple to deep center field in the fourth. Colton Cowser (No. 40 overall) drew two walks and scored a pair of runs. Coby Mayo (the O’s No. 7 prospect) started at third base and walked once. Drew Rom (Baltimore’s No. 18 prospect) started on the mound and struck out two in two solid innings.

“You get to see them play from really good seats in the house, and make some plays with them,” Kjerstad said. “Everybody out there is really, really talented and really, really good. You always see stuff every day that’s special, you may not see for a while or that’s just rare to see.”

Considering this was only Grapefruit League game No. 1, there should be plenty more of the excitement to come over the next few weeks.