'You can put him anywhere': Holliday continues impressing at 2B

March 14th, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- wanted more action at second base. Two weeks ago, the 20-year-old said it felt like he’d been “just standing out there” during games.

Holliday finally got his wish during the Orioles’ 7-5 loss to the Braves on Wednesday night at Ed Smith Stadium. In a six-inning appearance, MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect received his toughest test at second yet.

Unsurprisingly, he passed with flying colors.

On the game’s first pitch, Michael Harris II ripped a hard-hit ball off left-hander Cole Irvin, sending it deep into the hole at second base. Holliday made a spinning stop, retrieved the ball and fired a strong throw to first to nab Harris.

“First-pitch swinging, hot screamer at you and knocks it down, able to get the out,” Irvin said. “That’s all you can ask for.”

Holliday contributed to another highlight-reel-worthy play in the third, combining with veteran Kolten Wong, a former Cardinals teammate of Holliday’s All-Star dad. Wong made a nice play to scoop a Matt Olson grounder at third, then tossed it to Holliday, who covered the bag at second and made a tough, off-balance throw over to first in time to get Olson.

Despite having zero games of Major League experience, Holliday looked like a seasoned pro. After making 110 of his 137 Minor League starts the past two seasons at shortstop, Holliday is proving he can thrive at second, where he’s made eight of his 11 Grapefruit League starts this spring.

“The throw to first is pretty easy. It’s a lot shorter than shortstop,” said Holliday, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. “But just really been working on the feeds. I know they really emphasize being able to turn a double play in the organization, especially at the big league level and when it matters. Making sure our feeds are good and making sure that I can turn a double play every time it’s hit to me has been the main focus.”

Holliday still hasn’t started a double play in a game. But he’s initiated plenty of them during infield drills the past month.

He’s good at doing that, too.

“It’s kind of unique because on the backfields and in all of his practice work, it looks really clean. It looks like he’s played second base for a long time,” said third-base coach Tony Mansolino, who works with O’s infielders. “It looks professional, like he’s done it for 10 years.”

Offensively, Holliday has performed as expected in his push to make Baltimore’s Opening Day roster. He is 10-for-34 (.294) with two doubles, two triples, one homer and five RBIs. He’ll have an opportunity to continue showcasing his impressive bat over the next 11 days, including at the inaugural Spring Breakout on Thursday night.

But in order to break camp with the Orioles, Holliday has to be ready to play second, where the team would prefer to have a left-handed hitter who can split time with righty-hitting Jordan Westburg. Holliday has repeatedly shown he’s up to the task, which he did again Wednesday.

“Shoot, I saw him in [Triple-A] Norfolk a little bit last season. He’s a great defender,” Irvin said. “You can put him anywhere and he’s going to be able to get the job done.”

Kjerstad flashes the leather, too

Holliday wasn’t the only Baltimore prospect who played strong defense vs. Atlanta. Heston Kjerstad, the O’s No. 5 prospect and baseball's No. 32 overall prospect, per MLB Pipeline, made a nice play in left field in the second inning.

Kjerstad hustled to retrieve a Harris two-out knock from the left-field corner. He saw Atlanta's Eli White being waved around third, so he made a strong throw to Wong with the intention of using a relay to get White at the plate. However, White turned back to third, and because Kjerstad’s throw was quick and on time, Wong caught the ball and then tagged out White.

“In the outfield, there are a lot of plays you can make in the air,” said Kjerstad, who has put a big focus on defensive improvement this spring. “But when the ball’s on the ground, you can still maybe cut down a runner from getting an extra base or cut down a dude from scoring just by attacking the ball hard and taking good angles.”

Dominant relief

Right-hander Dillon Tate and lefty Keegan Akin continued their scoreless springs with strong showings against the Braves. Tate recorded one strikeout and one walk while working the fifth, and Akin struck out three over 1 1/3 innings.

Tate has allowed only one hit in five Grapefruit innings and Akin has given up only one hit over 6 1/3 frames, as both are making strong cases to be included in the Orioles’ Opening Day bullpen.