At 19, Holliday gets extended stay in 1st big league spring
Club's No. 3 prospect and former No. 1 overall Draft pick is youngest player in camp
SARASOTA, Fla. -- It was a bit surprising when the Orioles announced their list of Spring Training non-roster invitees in early February and Jackson Holliday was included. After all, he just turned 19 in December and has only 20 games of professional experience.
Now, we're approaching the middle of March and Holliday has survived the first several rounds of roster cuts, as the number of players in Baltimore’s camp has been trimmed from 71 to 55 over the past five days. He continues to routinely play in Grapefruit League games, often entering late as a pinch-hitter or a defensive replacement.
Did Holliday -- the Orioles’ No. 3 prospect and the No. 12 overall prospect in the Majors per MLB Pipeline -- think he’d still be sharing a clubhouse with proven big leaguers at the Ed Smith Stadium complex this deep into the spring?
“I didn’t really know what to expect, honestly,” said Holliday, who was selected by the O’s with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. “I’m just enjoying each and every moment that I get to be up here. And being with the big league staff and being around these guys and watching them do their thing, I’m just enjoying it as long as I can.”
General manager Mike Elias expressed confidence on the first day of camp that Holliday (the son of seven-time All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday) was the type of kid who could handle this assignment. Players and coaches have since raved about Holliday’s ability and maturity.
Last Friday, manager Brandon Hyde said Holliday hasn’t yet been reassigned to Minor League camp so he can work out with the big leaguers “a little bit longer.” With fellow top prospect Joey Ortiz in concussion protocol, Holliday is also providing needed depth at shortstop.
Through 13 Grapefruit games, Holliday is 5-for-13 with a double, an RBI, three walks and two runs scored. He’s stood out for his stellar glovework as well.
“He’s put the work in, and I think it’s shown out on the field,” first baseman Ryan Mountcastle said. “So far, he looks the part.”
While the playing time has been beneficial, equally important to Holliday’s development has been his time on the practice fields and in the facilities with his potential future big league teammates. He cited one as a particularly positive influence.
The second-youngest player in Orioles camp is 21-year-old infielder Gunnar Henderson, the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball. He’s been there for Holliday to lean on, as well as to answer any of his questions.
For example, what should Holliday do if his swing hasn’t been feeling great and he’s considering mechanical adjustments?
“Whenever I had my struggles in [High-A] Aberdeen, it felt like I was changing something every single day,” Henderson said. “So I now have that experience to be like, ‘Hey, you’re a really good player. There’s nothing wrong with your swing. Just maybe getting worn down a little bit, so trust what got you here.’”
The slump Henderson referenced occurred less than two years ago. His ascent from the Minors to the Majors was rapid -- from Single-A Delmarva to High-A Aberdeen to Double-A Bowie in 2021, then from Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk to MLB in ‘22.
Henderson believes Holliday has the talent for a similarly quick rise through Baltimore’s system. Holliday hopes that’s the case.
“Honestly, that’s probably everyone’s goal,” Holliday said. “But to watch [Henderson] execute it, it’s definitely something that I want to do.”
Holliday played only eight games in the Florida Complex League then 12 at Single-A last season, batting a combined .297/.489/.422 with one homer and nine RBIs. So he still has numerous ranks to climb.
Holliday is hoping to begin the 2023 campaign at High-A, but his sights are set higher for the upcoming year.
“I don’t want to set a ceiling, but Double-A would be pretty cool,” Holliday said.
With how well Holliday’s spring has gone, that seems like a reasonable objective. He’s held his own playing alongside (and against) Major League-caliber players, seamlessly blending into the fold.
Holliday may have a youthful face, but he looks much older on the diamond. It’s helped that the O’s have a welcoming environment in which inexperienced players are treated as equals, rather than having to endure any type of rookie hazing.
“As soon as you get in here, they’re unbelievable people as much as players,” Holliday said. “Just being around these guys, they’ve made it super easy for me to fit in and feel like part of the team.”
And Holliday will continue to be part of Baltimore’s Spring Training team -- for at least a little longer.