As the Baltimore Orioles get closer to Opening Day, one of the biggest storylines of the preseason will be where Jackson Holliday begins 2024.

The #1 prospect in baseball ended the 2023 season with a .941 OPS in the minors and got promoted all the way to AAA Norfolk before the end of the season.

Holliday ending the year in AAA has seemingly made him a serious candidate for the Opening Day roster. However, it’s hardly a guarantee he’ll make it based on his experience and other possible infield options. 

So, here’s a closer look at several factors that could impact this decision.  

He’d be the fastest promotion of the Mike Elias era 

If Jackson Holliday makes the Opening Day roster, he’d do so with both the fewest total minor league games and the fewest AAA games of any major prospect promoted since Mike Elias got hired. 

The previous fewest games needed before being promoted was Adley Rutschman, but it’s worth noting that isn’t including the 2020 season where Rutschman was still able to develop without playing in organized games thanks to the alternate site.  

The five biggest position player promotions of the Elias era have needed an average of 231 games in the minors and 87 games in AAA before being promoted, a pair of figures that Holliday is not even close to.  

Those five players also had to spend at least 25 percent of their minor league career in AAA before promoted, which would make it quite noteworthy if Holliday debuted after spending just 12 percent of his MiLB career as a member of the Norfolk Tides. 

Trading Joey Ortiz and letting Adam Frazier leave reduces competition for a roster spot 

If Holliday makes the Opening Day roster, it likely will have been made easier by a pair of infielders departing the organization this offseason. 

The Corbin Burnes trade meant that Joey Ortiz, a top-100 prospect who had already made his major league debut, would not be competing with Holliday for a roster slot. The same was true when Adam Frazier didn’t return to Baltimore after signing with the Kansas City Royals for one year and 4.5 million dollars.  

It never seemed particularly likely that Frazier would return, but it feels noteworthy that the Orioles also haven’t made an effort for any other veteran options who could play second base and/or shortstop.  

Currently unsigned veterans like Elvis Andrus, Tommy La Stella or Josh Harrison all could very easily be entertained as options to compete for an Opening Day roster spot, but so far the Orioles have resisted the urge to add a veteran infielder. 

Connor Norby is a potential wild card in this 

While Joey Ortiz is gone, another infield prospect with vastly more AAA playing time than Holliday could still be a factor. 

Connor Norby has played in 147 games for the Tides between 2022 and 2023, posting a solid but unspectacular .860 OPS with 25 homers in 675 plate appearances.  

 

The 2021 second-round pick is obviously not regarded as highly as Holliday, but his experience and respectable AAA production could be enough add another wrinkle to this decision if he has a very productive spring training.  

If it’s not Holliday, then it’ll be Jorge Mateo and Ramon Urias 

If the Orioles don’t opt for Holliday (or Norby) on the Opening Day roster, then we’ll be looking at that playing time going to the infield duo of Jorge Mateo and Ramon Urias.
Mateo and Urias are known quantities at this point, a pair of competent players who certainly aren’t expected to suddenly become stars in 2024. 
If the Orioles end up sending Holliday to Norfolk, then the best way to utilize Mateo and Urias would be in a platoon situation. While both of them are right-handed hitters, they have noticeably different platoon splits. 

 

Mateo facing left-handed pitching and Urias facing right-handed pitching wouldn’t exactly blow anyone away, but it’d be a perfectly acceptable platoon for a pair of hitters who’d likely be ninth in the order.
A Mateo/Urias platoon certainly has a lower ceiling than Holliday, but there’s a chance it’d offer a much safer floor to start the season. 

The lineup is deep enough where Holliday could struggle without harming the team that much 

While it’d be great if Holliday starts on Opening Day and ends April with an OPS of .900, there’s a pretty realistic chance that he won’t hit the ground running when he debuts.

However, the Orioles lineup should be deep enough to provide plenty of room for Holliday to struggle without impacting the team’s offense.
The projected Opening Day starter at every other position besides second base had an OPS+ of at least 100 last year, meaning that the Orioles shouldn’t have any other holes in the lineup if the 20-year-old rookie needs a little while to settle in. 

In fact, just last year the Orioles ended April with a 19-9 record while Gunnar Henderson had a .659 OPS during that timeframe. The Orioles didn’t send him down or regularly bench him, and it worked out just fine for both Henderson and the team’s record.  

There will certainly be pressure on Holliday whenever he debuts, but he’ll have the luxury of just needing to be the #9 hitter on a team bringing back nearly all of its offensive production from last year’s 102-win team. 

Rose Katz
Rose Katz

BSL Analyst

Rose Katz is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s journalism school, where she worked for The Diamondback as the online managing editor and a sports blogger. As a student, she spent almost all of her time on campus in The Diamondback’s newsroom or at Xfinity Center, Ludwig Field and Maryland Stadium. Rose gained intern experience with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN).

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