MLB No. 1 prospect Holliday to start season in Minors

March 22nd, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- At the Winter Meetings this past December, Orioles general manager Mike Elias stated there was “definitely a very strong possibility” that could break camp with the team for the start of the 2024 season. Elias made similar comments multiple times during the leadup to Spring Training.

However, Holliday will not be on Baltimore’s Opening Day 26-man roster.

On Friday, the Orioles made a bit of a surprising decision in reassigning Holliday (MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect) to Minor League camp, meaning the 20-year-old infielder will return to Triple-A Norfolk to begin the season. Among the other players in the round of roster cuts were promising young outfielders (O’s No. 5 prospect) and , plus infield prospects (No. 4) and (No. 7).

The big question of the day, though, was this: Why is Holliday not heading north to Baltimore?

“This is about an organization that prides itself on developing elite talents, putting a player in the best position for his own long-term success and for the short- and long-term success of the team and the roster that he’s on,” Elias said. “This is a 20-year-old that has played 18 games in Triple-A and is also in a position change and has not faced or had the opportunity to produce a ton against upper-level Minor League left-handed pitching in particular.

“This is where we’ve landed for now.”

Elias repeatedly cited Holliday’s lack of familiarity with second base and his limited experience against upper-level left-handed pitchers as primary reasons for the decision.

Holliday, who is a shortstop by trade, spent most of the spring learning second, where the 2022 No. 1 Draft pick made nine of his 14 Grapefruit League starts and will likely play a good bit when he reaches the Majors. He didn’t commit any errors and handled the position quite well.

In 15 Grapefruit games, Holliday went 14-for-45 (.311) with three doubles, two triples, two home runs, six RBIs and six runs scored with a .954 OPS. However, he also had 15 strikeouts, nine of which came against left-handed pitching. He went 2-for-14 vs. southpaws, although one of those hits was a grand slam off Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi on March 10.

“He’s very, very close,” Elias said. “He’s very ahead of schedule. He’s done remarkably well. We couldn’t be more excited about his future. But you’re talking about the development of a player who has the opportunity to be one of the better, if not best, players in the league.”

Elias pointed to the organization’s strong track record in its handling of top prospects. Catcher Adley Rutschman and infielder Gunnar Henderson (both former No. 1 overall prospects) have become two of the top players in the American League. Others, such as infielder Jordan Westburg and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, solidified themselves in the big leagues as Baltimore went 101-61 and won the AL East last season.

Holliday has the potential to be a superstar. The son of former All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday and a graduate of Stillwater (Okla.) High School, he’s mature for his age and fit seamlessly into the Orioles’ big league clubhouse each of the past two springs.

Everybody raves about Holliday’s behavior, skills and abilities.

“He’s really good, as good as anybody here in this room,” infielder Ramón Urías said. “He looks ready to me. I’m happy for the career that he’s going to have.”

“I love his swing. His swing is so smooth,” outfielder Ryan McKenna said. “The way he gets into good positions, just the maturity, how he doesn’t let things get to him. His defensive play, the way he knows the game and just the fluidity that he plays and the freedom and the confidence. He’s going to be a great player.”

Although Holliday won’t debut when the O’s host the Angels for Opening Day at Camden Yards on Thursday, his time is coming soon. It would be even more surprising if he doesn’t reach the Majors this year, and he has a good chance to do so in the first half.

Elias wants Holliday (who climbed all four full-season Minor League affiliates last year) to be ready for a full-time everyday role when he gets called up to the big leagues. For now, he’ll get five or six starts a week at second base upon his return to Triple-A and face better pitching than he saw at the lower levels where he spent much of 2023.

“He’s done nothing but perform and work and improve and be a sponge,” Elias said. “I think all of these guys were disappointed by the news this morning, but he’s a worker and he knows how close he is and what he can do to polish off his development, and he’s not somebody I would want to bet against tackling any challenge head on.”