Holliday bested in clash of No. 1 picks, but midseason? 'I like my chances'

February 29th, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Only 58 people have heard their names called as the first baseball player selected in the MLB Draft. Four were on the field at the same time at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota on Thursday afternoon: Paul Skenes (2023), Jackson Holliday (’22), Henry Davis (’21) and Adley Rutschman (’19).

“Doesn't happen very often,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said.

“A lot of talented guys out there today,” Baltimore skipper Brandon Hyde stated.

It was a star-studded spring matchup between the Pirates and the Orioles. And the headlining attraction? The first head-to-head meeting of Skenes and Holliday, the two most recent No. 1 overall Draft picks. Baseball’s top pitching prospect vs. the top overall prospect.

In the bottom of the first inning, Skenes (MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 overall prospect) took the mound for his first career spring start and Holliday (No. 1 overall) stepped into the box as the leadoff hitter. A two-pitch encounter went in the 21-year-old Skenes’ favor, with the 20-year-old Holliday grounding out to second base on a 1-0 offering.

Holliday was impressed by the electric stuff shown by the right-handed Skenes, who maxed out at 102 mph and also hit 101 mph multiple times. But Holliday was quick to note that it’s still only February and that his swing hasn’t reached in-season form quite yet.

“It’s really firm, huh? I mean, he’s throwing 102. It’s pretty fast,” Holliday said after departing Baltimore’s 9-8 win. “It’s a matter of time before at-bats start getting to the point where I like. Still a little bit not where I like to be. So I think maybe midseason form, I like my chances in that at-bat. But it’s still early.”

As Holliday also pointed out, Part Two may not be too far away.

MLB is holding its inaugural Spring Breakout event (a four-day prospect showcase at spring ballparks across Arizona and Florida) from March 14-17. On the opening night, the Orioles and the Pirates will face off at LECOM Park in Bradenton.

A second Holliday-Skenes meeting could be one of the headlining moments of Spring Breakout, which will have its rosters announced March 7 at 11 a.m. ET on MLB Network. After the Grapefruit League exhibition between Baltimore and Pittsburgh on March 14 (which begins at 3:05 p.m. ET), the prospect teams will take center stage at 7:05 p.m. ET, live on MLB Network. Tickets for the doubleheader are on sale now.

Skenes, who pitched only 6 2/3 Minor League innings last year, already showed he could hold his own against a strong top of the O’s order. After getting Holliday to ground out on Thursday, Skenes then induced flyouts by both Rutschman and Heston Kjerstad (MLB Pipeline’s No. 32 overall prospect) in a 1-2-3 frame.

“That's going to be a learning process for me, figuring out how to pitch to hitters as they figure out more about me,” Skenes said. “Because I'm going to face those guys a lot over the years, so I'm really looking forward to that."

The Orioles and the Pirates play a regular-season series every year, so there could be plenty more matchups against Holliday, who is again impressing during his second year in Baltimore’s big league camp.

Although Holliday couldn’t get the better of Skenes, he went on to record his first two-hit Grapefruit League game of the spring. He knocked a leadoff single in the fifth, then added a game-tying RBI triple (his first extra-base hit of Spring Training) in the sixth.

“I’m getting more comfortable. Not to the level that I would like to be swinging it, but the last few games, starting to tick up a little bit, so I’m happy about that,” said Holliday, who is 3-for-11 in four Grapefruit games. “It’s just a matter of getting at-bats and a matter of time before I start putting together good at-bats and getting a few more hits. I’m excited about the way that it’s trending.”

After Spring Breakout, Holliday and Skenes may not cross paths for a bit. While Holliday has a legitimate chance of breaking camp with the Orioles, it would be surprising if Skenes is included on the Pirates’ Opening Day roster.

That means it will also take a little while before there’s another game with four No. 1 Draft picks.

But it was clear how bright baseball’s future will be on Thursday during the moment when Skenes was on the mound, Holliday was in the batter’s box, Davis was crouched behind home plate and Rutschman was standing in the on-deck circle. Not only did Skenes deal and Holliday collect a pair of hits, but Davis hit a three-run homer off Baltimore ace Corbin Burnes in the first.

“It was really fun. I think everyone contributed a little bit, which is kind of cool,” Holliday said. “Being out there with four No. 1 picks, it’s pretty special.”