SARASOTA—One of the best second basemen in Orioles history is working in camp with perhaps the best group of young infielders in team history. Brian Roberts, who played second base for the Orioles from 2001-2013 was impressed by their physical attributes.
“My first impression was shock at how big they are,” the 5-foot-9 Roberts said. “The size of these guys and how they move is truly incredible. You can see how the game has changed in 10 or 15 years, the size and athleticism.
“Great hands, strong arms, super strong arms. They’re young and they’re going to make some mistakes, and they’re going have their learning process. I would take the ability any day, that’s for sure.”
This week, the Orioles were named as the top minor league organization by Baseball America for the first time since the publication began rating farm systems since 1984.
“I’ve never seen it before,” Roberts said. “I couldn’t tell you the last time the Orioles had the number one farm system in baseball, not since I’ve been a part of the organization, that’s for sure. That’s pretty rare. You don’t come across that all the time.
“Baseball and, I think, all sports are pretty cyclical when it comes to talent and winning and losing. You can see the cycle here headed in the right direction. When you can put that many young, talented players together, I don’t mean it’s hard to miss, but it sure makes it harder to miss.”
The youngest of those infielders is 19-year-old Jackson Holliday, the overall No. 1 pick in the draft last year.
“I’ve known Jackson since he was three. It’s kind of funny for me to even just see him out here,” Roberts said. “On draft night, his dad sent me a picture of him sitting on my lap on a baseball trip when he was three. I can remember him swinging a bat then.
“Does it surprise me? Absolutely not because he grew up around it. I think when you grow up around it the way that he grew up around it.
“Somebody asked me, I think before the draft, about him, and I said, the beauty of him is that he won’t be overwhelmed because this is normal. This is how he grew up. A lot of kids walk out here and are shellshocked and awestruck.
“You take the Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s, the Tatises, and these guys that grew up around the game, and you see how young they come up here and they’re unfazed. I think you could throw him in a big league game in Camden Yards tomorrow, and I’m not saying he would be an All-Star, but I don’t think he’d be fazed by it by any means.”
Roberts and Jackson’s father, longtime major leaguer Matt Holliday visited in Sarasota in the summer of 2021 before Jackson began his senior year in high school.
“I don’t [the Hollidays] saw him being the number one pick at that point,” Roberts said. “Matt didn’t act like it.
“Was I a little surprised over a year how fast he moved up the board and how much his talent jumped? A little bit. I also know that he put a ton of work in. When you have the size and the ability that he does and you put that kind of work in, nothing will surprise me what he accomplishes in this game.”
Roberts was a two-time All-Star for the Orioles and was second in team history with 278 and led the American League in doubles twice, but he’s unsure of if he would have been able to play with these young infield prospects.
“As a batboy, yeah. I’d have been happy to back one of them up,” Roberts joked. “Could I fit in? I don’t know. Our infield in ’05 was pretty darn good. [Miguel] Tejada was no slouch and [Melvin] Mora was no slouch. I don’t know if I would fit in? I would try to play and not embarrass myself.”
Who’s going to DH? Manager Brandon Hyde isn’t planning on an everyday designated hitter during the season.
“I think it’s going to be a day off for a regular and more of a matchup based DH,” Hyde said. “Looking at our roster, it’s nice that we’re versatile. We have left-handed and right-handed. I think we can put the best lineup possible every single night and rotate the DH around.”
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB