A few weeks before the draft, Orioles GM Mike Elias told reporters that the team had narrowed down to five players as possible choices for the #1 pick. He didn’t name the players, but it hasn’t been hard for the draft writers of the world to look at the top of their own boards and figure out who is of interest to the Orioles. One player on their radar is Oklahoma high school shortstop Jackson Holliday.
Holliday is the son of 15-year MLB veteran and seven-time All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday, so he has the MLB bloodlines in common with Druw Jones, who sits in the #1 spot on the prospect list for a lot of publications for this draft. The younger Holliday, unlike his father, is a lefty batter who’s been playing shortstop in his amateur career.
Up to this point, I haven’t seen a mock draft willing to stake its claim to say that the Orioles are going to use the #1 pick on Holliday. His name does keep coming up, though. MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo’s recent mock draft suggested that Holliday could be a “compromise” somewhere in the middle of the continuum between Jones (best player) and Termarr Johnson (most cost-effective player with first pick-ish talent). The Athletic’s Keith Law also put Holliday in play for the Orioles.
Just as most lists have had Jones as the #1 prospect, Holliday is the #2 guy on a lot of the lists. That includes the just-updated FanGraphs draft prospect ranking, which not only puts Holliday as the #2 prospect in the class but also lists that he’d be the #20 prospect in all of baseball upon being drafted. (Jones would be 10th, Brooks Lee 25th, and Johnson 27th.) MLB Pipeline’s prospect ranking also has Holliday just behind Jones. Only Law puts Holliday a bit behind, coming in at 6th. If the Orioles do take Holliday, hopefully these other ones are more correct about the talent.
One achievement that Holliday can hang his hat on is that he just set a record for hits by any high school player in the country, turning in a senior season where he had 89 hits in 41 games. Now, this only matters so much. The pitchers he faced as a 12th grader in Oklahoma are not as tough as what he would face as a pro. It’s sure not a bad starting point. The previous record holder, J.T. Realmuto, is now in his ninth MLB season, with 25.2 bWAR to date in his career.
At FanGraphs, Holliday’s #2 draft prospect ranking comes along with a report that praises a lot of the building blocks of his hitting ability:
Holliday is one of the better rotational athletes in this draft, with one of the loosest, most beautiful swings in this class. He takes a big (but balanced) stride and can adjust barrel depth by getting deeper into his lower half through contact. He also has a good foundational feel for contact, and actually put balls in play at a better rate than most of the other high schoolers (including Termarr Johnson) did during showcase play, at roughly three balls in play for every swing and miss.
Actually being able to hit the baseball is an important one! The discussion of hit tool has been significant in looking at each of these draft prospects up til now. Though Jones is the #1 prospect with most of the rankings, there’s less certainty about his hit tool compared to some of these other guys.
That, along with a rumor that Jones may be seeking a draft signing bonus of as high as $10 million - the #1 pick slot value is about $8.8 million - could be something that would send the Orioles in a different direction, possibly in Holliday’s direction.
Pipeline’s #2 ranking of Holliday comes with noting some gains in speed and strength as he’s headed towards the draft:
Holliday has an advanced approach, no surprise given his roots, and a knack for putting the barrel on the ball. ... After getting bigger and stronger, he’s hitting the ball with more authority than ever this spring, and he also looks more relaxed at the plate and is letting his considerable power come naturally. Holliday has gotten faster as he has gotten stronger, and he now flashes plus-plus run times as a senior and is a consistent plus runner. He’s throwing better too, and his solid to plus arm strength and enhanced quickness give him a better opportunity to remain at shortstop.
It’s always good to figure out whether a shortstop is going to stay at shortstop. For high school players, the best athlete on a team is usually just the shortstop, but that doesn’t mean he can handle it there as a professional. It’s valuable to have a shortstop who can also hit because this sort of player is more rare; second or third basemen are more common.
Even Law’s ranking of Holliday at 6 comes with praise for his ability. Law’s questions about Holliday are more about whether his power will show up as game home runs. He thinks Holliday is “more likely to be a high-doubles guy with 15-20 homers than a 30-homer guy even at his peak.” That’s power in the way that former Oriole Nick Markakis had power. It’s not as exciting as a guy hitting 50 home runs, but it has value. Markakis turned out to be the best first round pick in his draft class. Adam Jones was #2.
Law notes the question of whether Holliday will be able to stay as a shortstop, raising the possibility that he has the speed to be a center fielder. That’s still an up-the-middle player (catcher and center field in addition to shortstop) and one thing we know about Elias is that he loves being able to stockpile those kinds of players. Among the players the O’s are considering, it seems like Jones and Holliday have the best chance to stick at one of the up-the-middle spots. We’ll know tomorrow whether that impacts their thinking.
Some video of Holliday in action from a Perfect Game showcase:
If the Orioles don’t draft Jones, the Diamondbacks will do so. That means Holliday won’t go earlier than #3 unless the Orioles take him. The slot value of the #3 pick is about $7.6 million. The Orioles could offer Holliday, say, $7.75 million. He gets more than he’d get otherwise and the O’s get about $1.1 million of slot savings to apply later in the draft. This benefits both parties - you know, as long as Holliday turns into a great player.
That’s why Mayo called Holliday something of a compromise option between talent and cost savings. This guy seems to be a top 3 talent no matter what the Orioles decide to do. Again, this only seems to be true of Jones and Holliday out of the draft class. Whether that means the Orioles should or will take one of them is for Elias, Sig Mejdal, and whoever else is in their inner circle to figure out.