SALISBURY—Shortstop Jackson Holliday stood out during spring training. There was the long-flowing hair, his youth and, of course, his talent.
It was the youth that stood out. He’s 19 and to many he looks much younger but plays much older.
Cade Povich, a left-handed pitcher who’ll begin the season with Double-A Bowie and is still just 22, was stunned by Holliday’s talent and youth.
“A guy that young going into the games, acting like he’s been there before,” he said. “We always made the joke that he was asking the teacher to go to the bathroom this time last year.”
A year ago, Holliday was an 18-year-old high school senior in Stillwater, Oklahoma, not daring to dream that he’d be the first overall selection by the Orioles.
“It’s funny to think that a year ago I was playing with my brother in high school,” Holliday said on Tuesday as the Delmarva Shorebirds prepared to begin their season. “I wouldn’t be doing anything else but playing baseball.”
Holliday’s father, longtime major leaguer Matt, will be in Salem, Virginia on Thursday when the Shorebirds open their season.
After Jackson signed with the Orioles, Matt watched closely and even decided to eschew a job with the St. Louis Cardinals as their bench coach, a job he initially accepted, so he could see his oldest son progress in professional ball.
It may have been a shock to see Holliday — who had all of 20 games of professional experience last year, 12 with Delmarva and eight in the Florida Complex League — get an invitation to major league spring training.
Holliday was expected to get in a handful of games before he was sent to the Twin Lakes minor league complex but instead stayed through much of the Grapefruit League schedule.
After he was reassigned, he was summoned back as an extra player and ended up playing in 16 games, hitting .429 (6-for-14) with an RBI.
MLB Pipeline’s 12th-rated prospect could have been upset that with his experience in Sarasota that he was heading back to the Eastern Shore instead of moving up to High-A Aberdeen. Holliday is the only player on the Shorebirds’ roster who was invited to spring training.
“After being able to compete with some guys on the higher level of minor leagues, coming back down here, I feel like it gives me a little bit of an advantage to have more recognition of good pitches and being able to make mistakes and having that experience,” he said. “I was surprised how competitive it was, a lot more competitive than I thought. It was good, a lot of talent down here.”
Delmarva manager Felipe Alou Jr., who had Holliday in 2022, will enjoy the time he has with him this year.
“We expect for him to improve, the same way that he’s been improving since he got to the organization,” Alou said. “He had a pretty strong spring and right now we’re looking forward to having him, hopefully not for very long. We know the type of talent he’s bringing to the field every day and looking forward to seeing him develop and play and grow every day.”
During spring training, Holliday said he was befriended by fellow overall No. 1 pick, Adley Rutschman as well as Gunnar Henderson, John Means and Mychal Givens. Adam Frazier gave him tips on how to turn a double play.
Rutschman and Henderson took him bowling and to Popstroke for golf. Other teammates saw how skilled Holliday was at ping pong.
“Seeing their personalities and how easy they are to be around is the coolest part,” Holliday said. “Watching their day-in, day-out stuff and watching their cage work and how they handle themselves is probably what I took away most.”
Late in spring training, Holliday entered a game in Dunedin against the Toronto Blue Jays, who had all their regulars playing. It was what stood out during the games he played.
“Watching Bo Bichette and being in the field when he’s hitting and George Springer, I’ve watched him hit so many postseason home runs as a kid, I’m on the field and he hits an oppo [opposite-field] home run,” Holliday said. “Moments like that were neat for me. Guys that I grew up watching and being on the same field as them and watch them do their thing was really, really cool.”
Longtime family friend and longtime Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts came to camp as a guest instructor for a few days and remarked that Holliday wasn’t out of place, even if he was the only teenager in Orioles camp.
“I didn’t feel [over]matched, that’s for sure,” Holliday said. “Being able to be up there and be in the same lineup with those guys and being able to compete with them and practice with them and size myself up in a way, I definitely don’t feel too far away from the big leagues. I feel pretty confident in my game.”
When he signed last July, Holliday said he hoped to be in the major leagues in two years. He has an equally ambitious goal for this season.
“I’d like to make it as high as possible,” he said. “Double-A is probably a good goal, and that’s something that I’m trying to accomplish this year, to put myself in the best spot to reach that. That’s a goal I set for myself. I don’t know what their plan is, but I don’t want to give them any reasons not to send me there.”
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB