After weeks of speculation, the Orioles have got their man. With the #1 pick, they could have any player they wanted. When it came down to it, the one they wanted was not the player that most evaluators thought was the best player in the draft class, or the player who was thought to be available to save the O’s the most money. They selected Jackson Holliday, son of former MLBer Matt Holliday, a high school shortstop from Oklahoma.
Holliday is only a surprise pick if someone had talked themselves into Druw Jones - the #1 player - or Termarr Johnson. He is a player whose talent has him near the top of the draft class in most rankings. At MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs, Holliday is the #2 prospect in the class, behind only Jones. The FG draft prospect ranking says that Holliday will be a top 25 prospect in MLB as soon as he signs. That’s not a bad guy to get with the #1 pick. He’s just not Jones.
One thing about Jackson Holliday, and perhaps the thing that ultimately drew the Orioles to take him, is that he can hit. He is fresh off of a senior season where he set a new nationwide record for hits recorded by a high school player. He had 89 hits in 41 games. That’s a lot! Of course, he’s going to be facing tougher pitching than ever before when he steps on a pro diamond, and it’s going to be harder with every level from there.
Pipeline’s report on Holliday:
Holliday has an advanced approach, no surprise given his roots, and a knack for putting the barrel on the ball. He usually makes consistent hard contact, though he didn’t during the summer when he let his simple left-handed stroke get too long. 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.
If you hadn’t already gotten hype for Johnson or Jones, that sounds pretty good! Putting the barrel on the ball is what you want. Hitting the ball with authority is what you want. Considerable power is also what you want. His speed is said to have improved too, and there’s belief that he will be able to stick at shortstop.
FG summarized Holliday’s potential like this: “He checks literally every box, and there aren’t many lefty-hitting shortstops with this kind of juice. He projects as an All-Star shortstop.” This also sounds pretty good!
The one big evaluator that didn’t have Holliday ranked quite as highly was Keith Law at The Athletic. Even his report on Holliday has a lot of exciting things in it, just with a bit of tempering in the praise:
He has one of the best swings in the draft, even with a slight bat wrap, with strong plate coverage and above-average power, more likely to be a high-doubles guy with 15-20 homers than a 30-homer guy even at his peak. He’s been hard to strike out as an amateur, only showing occasional weakness against fastballs up, and so far his pitch recognition has been strong for his age and experience level.
The difference between Law and the other evaluators is probably the assessment of the power. If somebody thinks Holliday can be a 30 homers per season guy, they’re going to have him ranked higher than if somebody thinks of Holliday as having more in the range of early-career Nick Markakis-level power, with tons of doubles and not as many home runs.
One other thing that may have impressed the Orioles about Holliday is his mental makeup as a son of a long-time big leaguer and seven-time All-Star. Matt Holliday’s final season of his MLB career was only four years ago, so even moreso than Jones, whose father’s last MLB season was a decade ago when Druw was only eight years old, Jackson Holliday had the ability to grow up around the game. Will that help him in his pro career? Orioles fans are now hoping that will be the case.
There had been talk before the draft that the Orioles might be looking to cut a deal as an underslot pick at the #1 overall pick. It seems like the Orioles have done this, if not to the same extreme as the past two drafts when they took Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser. In 2020, it now looks like the O’s avoiding Austin Martin, who everyone thought they should take #2, was a good decision. It’s less clear for 2021, as #6 pick Jordan Lawlar, who the O’s could have taken at #5, is off to a good first full pro season.
Holliday will probably not take the full $8.8 million slot value allotted to the pick in order to sign, but he’s not expected to come at a deep discount either, as Johnson was said to have. Holliday was believed to be headed to be a top 3 pick pretty much no matter what the Orioles did. The #3 pick value is $7.6 million. So let’s guess that they save in the vicinity of $1 million for their later picks. We’ll see if they take a player who looks to be getting some of that money by the end of the night.