Just how aggressive is too aggressive? Is there such a thing as “rushing” a prospect too quickly through the minor leagues without negatively impacting their development along the way?
Well, no matter what side you want to take here, the Baltimore Orioles are allowing Jackson Holliday’s play to speak for itself.
Thus having Just Baseball’s number one prospect in baseball rapidly ascend through the Orioles system, well on his way to debuting in the Major League prior to his 21st birthday.
In case you haven’t heard, the 2022 first-overall pick is being promoted to Triple-A Norfolk this week.
Thus far in his professional career, Holliday has played at all three levels of the Minor Leagues in 2023 and torn them all up along the way. He is being promoted to Norfolk now after hitting an impressive .338/.421/.507 with three home runs, nine doubles, and an OPS of .928 in just 36 games at Double-A Bowie.
Across all levels in 2023, he has a slash line of .333/.451/.517 in 107 games played.
Rapid Rise Justified?
Much has recently been made of organizations’ approach to the handling of their prospects, most notably the way the Los Angeles Angels are already having their recent draftees debut in the Majors the past couple of seasons.
The difference between the two situations would be where the respective players were drafted from. The Angels are notorious for taking college players more often than not with their draft picks. In this case, Holliday was taken number one overall out of Stillwater High School in Oklahoma.
It is impressive what Holliday has been able to do at each level he has been at this season.
Holliday’s consistency throughout the minors needs to be noted. Despite not really being able to settle in at one affiliate for too long, and the consistent rise in competition at every level, Holliday continues to be productive whenever he is on a baseball field.
Between looking at the steadiness of his strikeout rate and great walks rates, for such a young hitter, is remarkable. Throw in the fact that he has kept his on-base percentage over .420 at every stop of his career and it is clear how special of a hitter this really is.
While pedigree is a huge benefit to players, being the son of former long-time Major Leaguer Matt Holliday, Jackson has set out to make a name for himself, quietly becoming one of the more impressive prospects in recent memory.
Beyond the Box Score
As impressive as the peripheral stats for Jackson are, it’s the advanced metrics that make this move to Triple-A Norfolk that much more justifiable to the skeptics worried about a negative impact on his development.
While the strikeout rate is impressive, I found his Z-Contact% (Zone Contact) remarkable. Amongst 1,924 registered pitches this season, his Z-Contact percentage is 82%. For context, Shohei Ohtani’s Z-Contact% is currently at 81.5% this season.
No, I am not calling Jackson Holliday Shohei Ohtani, but to be putting up contact numbers like this amongst three different levels of competition, all ascending as he continues to move up, is what makes him special.
Against each pitch type, where he has seen more than 20 registered pitches, he is hitting over .270 amongst each pitch. Including a .312 average against changeups, which he has seen nearly 300 times this year.
You know the old saying, “see the ball, hit the ball”? That pretty much encapsulates what Holliday is able to do in the box. He has a remarkable control of the strike zone, despite his lack of professional experience, and is just able to find a way to swing at and make contact with the right pitches.
There is a good chance that as Holliday continues to develop and grow into his body as an athlete over time, he will begin to tap into more power and become even more well-rounded as a hitter. In the meantime, he has shown that he can still hold his own, regardless of the competition and be an above-average hitter who puts up great at-bats to find his way on base.
2023 Major League Debut?
There has been a lot of speculation about Holliday’s potential debut in 2023. With a performance like this, who can blame those pushing for it?
The Orioles, historically, haven’t been shy about promoting players prior to their 21st birthday. The most recent notable example would be Manny Machado’s promotion at 20 years old.
With the Orioles currently fighting to hold onto a top seed in the American League playoff race, I don’t see Holliday being promoted this season. Their team is clicking on all cylinders and, while I am not insinuating that Holliday would break that, the city of Baltimore deserves to see this season play out with how things have seamlessly gone in 2023 and how this team continues to prove any early-season doubters wrong.
Baltimore has a strong starting lineup, specifically at the positions at which Holliday would likely be playing once he does make his debut. While he would be an upgrade over a few hitters on their roster, promoting him, and not allowing for him to get consistent at-bats each day, would likely be where the negative impact on his development would arise.
Jackson Holliday looks to be ready to make an impact in Baltimore sooner rather than later. His rapid ascension is incredible, but let him finish off the season in Triple-A Norfolk and watch him compete in Spring Training for an Opening Day roster spot in 2024.
More likely than not, Holliday will start next season in Triple-A, but if he can produce at that level the way he has at every stop prior to it, we could very well see the top prospect in baseball make his debut next season at 20 years old.