Orioles star prospect Holliday to start season in minors (2024)

Orioles star prospect Holliday to start season in minors (1)

By Melissa Lockard and Brittany Ghiroli

Mar 22, 2024

Baltimore Orioles shortstop Jackson Holliday, the top prospect in MLB, won’t be breaking camp with the major-league team, the Orioles announced Friday.

Holliday was reassigned to minor-league camp. The Orioles also announced that outfield prospect Heston Kjerstad had been optioned to Triple A, along with outfielder Kyle Stowers. Infield prospect Coby Mayo was also re-assigned to minor-league camp, along with utility man Connor Norby and right-hander Albert Suárez.

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The decision to start Holliday in Triple A is mildly surprising, despite the fact that the Orioles are returning their incumbent middle infield — shortstop and 2023 American League Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson and second baseman Rámon Urías. A natural shortstop, Holliday played a lot of second base in camp this spring and seems poised to usurp Urías at the keystone this season.

Given that Holliday had a strong camp — he hit .311/.354/.600 with two homers — and that MLB’s collective bargaining agreement awards teams who have eventual Rookies of the Year on their Opening Day roster, it seemed like Holliday had a strong chance of making the team out of camp.

Although Holliday is just 20 years old, the 2022 MLB top draft pick has destroyed pitching at every level since turning pro and already has 18 games of Triple-A experience under his belt. He isn’t expected to need much time in Triple A and will be the favorite to win the AL’s Rookie of the Year award if he makes his MLB debut sometime in the first two months of the season, which seems likely. If Holliday does win the ROY, the Orioles won’t gain the draft compensation for having him on the roster all season, but Holliday will still be eligible to earn an extra year of service time if he finishes first or second in the Rookie of the Year voting, meaning that keeping him in the minor leagues for a few weeks won’t automatically give the Orioles an extra year of control for Holliday. The new rules were designed to prevent teams from keeping players in the minor leagues for a few weeks at the start of a season to manipulate their service time.

Regardless of when he reaches the majors, Holliday has all the makings of becoming a superstar. The son of former MLB slugger Matt Holliday, Jackson hit .323/.442/.499 across four levels of the minor leagues as a 19 year old last season. He was named MLB’s top prospect coming into this season by The Athletic’s Keith Law, who had this to say about Holliday:

“He has exceptional hand-eye coordination, so even when he’s fooled by a pitch he often manages to make contact with it, even hard contact. I do think major-league pitchers will force him to shorten up his swing sometimes, as he nearly always swings full bore and no one has given him any reason to do otherwise. He’s a 50/55 runner, likely to end up average once he fills out, a process that will begin as soon as he starts shaving every day. Holliday is a natural shortstop whose position wouldn’t be in doubt if the Orioles didn’t already have an incumbent there — and Holliday is a better defender than Gunnar Henderson at short — but he’s moved around the infield a little and could come up at third or second if Baltimore doesn’t want to dislodge the AL Rookie of the Year. He reminds me in several ways of Troy Tulowitzki, but has the advantage of the left-handed bat and has a better feel for the strike zone. I think he’ll hit .280-.300 with strong walk rates and 25+ homers a year to go with above-average defense at shortstop, and that’s a profile that can win an MVP award.”

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The Orioles come into this season with the top-rated farm system in MLB, according to Law, and that depth is reflected in today’s roster moves. In addition to Holliday (No. 1), the Orioles re-assigned or optioned their No. 3 prospect (Mayo), No. 4 prospect (Kjerstad) and No. 8 prospect (Norby). — Melissa Lockard, senior editor

What to make of the decision

This won’t be a popular decision in Baltimore, though the Orioles under general manager Mike Elias deserve the benefit of the doubt given their track record in finding and developing young talent quickly at the big-league level.

The decision isn’t as simple as Holliday versus any of the remaining bench spots on the Orioles roster. With Henderson expected to be the Orioles everyday shortstop, Holliday — who has bounced between second base and shortstop this season — has less of a clear path. Jorge Mateo, who can play second base and backup shortstop, made the club on Thursday and veteran second baseman Kolton Wong, who has a contract opt-out if he doesn’t make the roster, presented a logjam. The Orioles have yet to announce their final roster and if they decide to go with six or seven infielders will certainly change the complexion of things.

Elias told reporters in Sarasota that Holliday’s career has already moved at a pace faster than they’ve seen in several decades.

“Guys of that marquee caliber, you want them to be able to start their careers in full-time, full-blown roles and because of how fast Jackson has moved in his lack of professional experience, I think he’s only played like 18 games in Triple A in particular. He’s not faced a ton of major league quality or even Triple-A quality left-handed pitching. That’s something that’s going to be thrust in his face when he’s in the American League East.”

Elias also noted that with Henderson at shortstop, Holliday will primarily be at second base.

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“We’ve got a position change undergoing, and it’s something we’re fully optimistic about,” Elias told reporters. “He’s a quick study. He’s got the tools to play second base. He made strides in this camp, but a plan of having him play in Triple A and playing second base five, six days in a row to start the season is going to do a lot both for his confidence and ours that that’s ready to go in the American League East.”

While Holliday had a solid spring, the 20-year-old has only one minor league season under his belt and he did lead the team in strikeouts this spring.

He will likely start the season at Triple-A Norfolk, though the team hasn’t announced a formal plan. Holliday was far from the only top prospect who was sent to minor league camp as third base prospect Mayo and outfielders Kjerstad and Stowers were also informed that they won’t be making the team. Baltimore has a problem other teams would kill to have: too many talented position player prospects. — Brittany Ghiroli, MLB senior writer

Required reading

  • Baltimore Orioles 2024 top 20 prospects: Jackson Holliday leads top farm system

(Photo: Julio Aguilar / Getty Images)

Orioles star prospect Holliday to start season in minors (2024)
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