Holliday showing Major League poise with torrid spring

O's top prospect hitting, hustling, eyeing Major League roster spot

March 19th, 2024

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- In nine days, could become a big leaguer. The 20-year-old looks like one already.

“Well, I mean, it’s hard to say he doesn’t, even though he’s so young,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s playing with a ton of energy. I like the defense he’s playing, too, that’s improved. And he’s taking really good at-bats.”

Holliday opened the final week of Spring Training with another stellar all-around performance, showcasing all of his tools in Baltimore’s 13-8 win over Toronto at TD Ballpark on Tuesday afternoon. MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 prospect went 2-for-3 with a solo home run (his second in Grapefruit League action) and made several nice plays at second base.

Through 14 games, Holliday is 14-for-43 (.326) with seven extra-base hits, six RBIs and six runs scored. A shortstop by trade, the 2022 No. 1 Draft pick has a clean defensive ledger, even with nine of his 14 starts coming at second.

Holliday is routinely proving how badly he wants to begin his second full professional season in the Major Leagues.

“I feel pretty good with where my game’s at. Whatever they decide, they decide, right?” Holliday said. “Just coming out here and playing and trying to win each and every at-bat and each and every play on defense, taking that attitude vs. thinking too far in the future. Just trying to be present and enjoy the game and control what I can control.”

Tuesday’s game was only a few minutes old when Holliday made his first max-effort play of the day. After stepping into the batter’s box against Blue Jays right-hander Chris Bassitt to open the contest, Holliday fell behind 0-2 and then worked the count full by taking three straight balls.

Then, Holliday hit a grounder up the middle, directly where Toronto shortstop Bo Bichette was stationed. But Holliday put down his head, ran hard and beat Bichette’s throw to first for a hit.

In the past, Holliday’s dad (former All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday) has reminded him how much greater the odds are of legging out an infield single if the ball is hit anywhere to the left of second base. The youngster has taken these words of wisdom to heart.

“It worked a few times in the Minor Leagues, trying to maybe catch a guy off-guard a little bit, just hit it and take off running,” Holliday said. “Hey, a hit’s a hit, so I’m happy with it.”

Holliday fell behind 1-2 in his second plate appearance vs. Bassitt in the second and again worked the count full before taking a fourth ball for a seven-pitch walk. In recent weeks, Holliday has continually had a strong approach against big league-caliber pitchers.

He doubled off Phillies ace Zack Wheeler as part of a 3-for-4 performance on March 5. He belted a grand slam off Blue Jays lefty Yusei Kikuchi on March 10. He held his own against Braves righty Spencer Strider on Sunday, when he drew a walk and put together competitive at-bats against one of MLB’s best arms.

Although Holliday has struck out 14 times, he’s done so only once in 11 plate appearances over the past three games.

“For me, pressing a little bit early, which is super natural. Overswinging at times,” Hyde said of Holliday's approach. “Now, for me, the at-bats are more under control. I think he’s seeing the ball a little bit better.”

In the sixth inning on Tuesday, Holliday worked a full count for the third time in his first at-bat against Toronto righty Chad Green. He then hammered a hanging 3-2 curveball left over the middle of the plate a Statcast-projected 376 feet to right-center field for a homer.

Both of Holliday’s spring home runs have come at TD Ballpark in Dunedin.

“I do like hitting here. Usually, the wind blows out, so it’s pretty favorable,” Holliday said. “Can’t say I don’t like it.”

But Holliday would like to be hitting at a big league ballpark even more. At this point, it sure seems like he’s playing his way onto the Orioles’ Opening Day roster -- and potentially into their starting lineup for the March 28 opener vs. the Angels at Camden Yards.

“Jackson’s Jackson. He goes about his business the right way. He executes his routine really well. He’s been playing great defense, and he’s been hitting the ball really well,” said fellow prospect Colton Cowser, whose 463-foot blast was among Baltimore’s four homers against Toronto.

“He’s not really in control of his fate at the moment. But I think he’s doing a great job going out there, showcasing what he’s capable of.”