Elias explains why Holliday won't start season with Orioles; Mayo, Norby reassigned, Kjerstad, Stowers optioned - BaltimoreBaseball.com
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Elias explains why Holliday won’t start season with Orioles; Mayo, Norby reassigned, Kjerstad, Stowers optioned

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SARASOTA, Florida-In a surprise move that was met with disappointment from fans, the Orioles reassigned baseball’s top prospect, 20-year-old Jackson Holliday, to minor league camp on Friday.

Holliday, who hit .311 with two home runs and six RBIs during Grapefruit League games while playing mostly second base, seemed to have made his case that he was ready to join the Orioles at the start of the 2024 season.

“He is way, way ahead of the curve,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said in a 25-minute session with the media. “He’s moved through the minors at a pace that we haven’t seen in a couple of decades, arguably. When we think about developing and completing the development of a player with his talent, and it’s something we have some experience doing … there’s a lot of considerations involved so that when they do start their major league career, you want them to be able to stay.

“Guys of that marquee caliber, you want them to be able to start their careers in full-time, full-blown roles and because of how fast Jackson has moved in his lack of professional experience, I think he’s only played like 18 games in Triple-A in particular. He’s not faced a ton of major league quality or even Triple-A quality left-handed pitching. That’s something that’s going to be thrust in his face when he’s in the American League East.”

Holliday has played mostly shortstop in the minor leagues, though he has played some second base, but with manager Brandon Hyde indicating on Thursday that Gunnar Henderson will play primarily at shortstop, Holliday needs to master second base, Elias said.

“We’ve got a position change undergoing, and it’s something we’re fully optimistic about. He’s a quick study. He’s got the tools to play second base. He made strides in this camp, but a plan of having him play in Triple-A and playing second base five, six days in a row to start the season is going to do a lot both for his confidence and ours that that’s ready to go in the American League East.

“He’s very, very close. He’s ahead of schedule. He’s done remarkably well. We couldn’t be more excited about his future. You’re talking about the development of a player who has the opportunity to be one of the better, if not the best players in the league … We feel that this will be in the long-term best interests of everyone involved to allow him to have a little more Triple-A experience for those reasons. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

Elias repeatedly pointed to Holliday’s lack of experience against left-handed pitching. He said that he expects that the Orioles’ early opponents will start many left-handers.  Holliday was 2-for-14 (.143) with nine strikeouts against left-handers in Grapefruit League games, though he did hit a grand-slam against a left-hander.

“If you look at his experience so far in the minor leagues, he just hadn’t had a lot of,” Elias said. “It’s something that’s going to be important so that he’s a part-time contributor in his early tenure with this team.”

Elias, who had said at December’s Winter Meetings that it’s “definitely a very strong possibility” that Holliday will make the team, said that nothing had changed since he made those statements, even though fans are wondering if Elias raised expectations that Holliday couldn’t meet.

“He’s had a good chance to break with the team the whole time,” Elias said. “For a lot of these guys, they put themselves in great positions. Almost all of them are ahead of schedule in terms of when they were drafted and how they were doing and we have a lot of good players with more major league experience to draw from and these guys are not finished products themselves. You put all that into an equation, and it’s just not quite their time in some cases. These are not permanent decisions, either.”

Holliday wasn’t the only top prospect who received bad news on Friday, and whose demotion disappointed fans eager to see them on the Opening Day roster.

Infielders Coby Mayo and Connor Norby were also reassigned to minor league camp. Outfielders Heston Kjerstad and Kyle Stowers, who hit seven home runs in the spring, were optioned to minor league camp.

“You look at our whole camp. Almost everyone had a great camp,” Elias said. “We have a lot of players with really good statistics in camp. A lot of them were sent out today … All of these guys did a great job of putting themselves in the thick of competition and distinguishing themselves, even with this talented camp.”

Right-hander Albert Suárez and catcher David Bañuelos were also reassigned to minor league camp. The Orioles’ spring training roster is 38.

Elias said that additional moves could be made before next Thursday when the roster must be set at 26.

“We have not decided on an Opening Day roster,” Elias said. “There are still decisions to be made.”

Notes: Elias said that starters Kyle Bradish and John Means, who will start the season on the injured list, are likely to pitch “early in the first half of the season.” … Second baseman Kolten Wong has opted out of his contract. The Orioles have 48 hours to make a decision on whether to add him to the major league roster. Elias said no decision has been made.

This story has been updated.

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