Fans of the Baltimore Orioles are undoubtedly getting antsy as they wait for their team to make a splash or two at the Winter Meetings, but at least we have some news to get excited about in the meantime: At his media appearance in Nashville on Tuesday, GM Mike Elias left the door very much open for No. 1 overall prospect Jackson Holliday to make the O’s Opening Day roster.
Mike Elias said Jackson Holliday will play shortstop and second base during spring, and the game's top prospect has a "very strong possibility" to make the Orioles out of camp. "I don't want to put the cart before the horse, but he had a historic first full season in the minors."— Andy Kostka (@afkostka) December 5, 2023
Granted, “very strong possibility” and “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse” still leave plenty of rhetorical wiggle room, and there’s always the possibility that Holliday gets off to a relatively slow spring — or that Baltimore just decides it would rather hold him down long enough to earn an extra year of service time. (Though the prospect promotion incentives introduced in the most recent CBA have thankfully curbed that behavior somewhat.)
Still: Holliday has been on a meteoric ascent from pretty much the moment the O’s took him No. 1 overall out of Stillwater (Oklahoma) High School in the 2022 MLB Draft, and while he just turned 20, at this point it seems like the only challenge left for him lies in the Majors. Holliday blitzed Single-A (1.183 OPS in 14 games), High-A (.940 in 57) and Double-A (.928 in 36) this past season, and while he didn’t hit for a ton of power in a brief late-season cameo in Triple-A, he still posted an OBP near .400 and walked nearly as often as he struck out — in a league in which he was seven years younger than the average player. Baltimore has been pretty aggressive with him over the past 18 months, and he’s handled it all without breaking much of a sweat.
If he does so again in spring training, he could very well be the team’s starting shortstop on Opening Day. For all of the O’s young infield depth, they’re a bit light on natural shortstops; Ramon Urias posted an OPS below league average in 2023, while Jordan Westburg and Gunnar Henderson are better defensive fits at second and third, respectively. There’s no doubt that Baltimore’s best nine next season (and well beyond) involves that trio in that trio order. The only question is whether Elias decides to pull that lever immediately or wait a little while, as Holliday’s contact rate dipped a little bit — from “elite” to merely “very good”, but still — as he moved up the Minor League ladder, and it couldn’t hurt to let a guy who just turned 20 get his feet under him a bit against seasoned professionals. Then again, Holliday has spent the last year-plus crushing against guys much older than him already, and a few weeks’ worth of wins would really help on the O’s quest for a World Series.