Peter Schmuck: Holding back Holliday is the right move even if it doesn’t feel that way - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Peter Schmuck

Peter Schmuck: Holding back Holliday is the right move even if it doesn’t feel that way

Jackson Holliday
Photo Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

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No doubt, there are a lot of Oriole fans who were very disappointed to hear rookie phenom Jackson Holliday will not be opening the regular season on the Orioles’ major league roster.

I feel their pain.

Who doesn’t want to see if the kid is ready to rock at this level … and who isn’t fairly sure that he’s already on the cusp of major league stardom?

If this were 2022 instead of 2024, it would be hard to make a baseball argument for keeping him out of the big league starting lineup from Day One. Back then, the Orioles needed every bit of young star power they could promote to convince people to show up at the ballpark, and they could afford to develop their best prospects on the fly.

The difference now should be pretty obvious. The Orioles don’t need him right now, so there’s no reason to rush him while he still has a few wrinkles to iron out at the Triple-A level.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias outlined the reasoning during his news conference on Friday after the club demoted Holliday along with fellow up-and-comers Coby Mayo, Connor Norby, Kyle Stowers and Heston Kjerstad.

There isn’t room at the inn, which is one of those good news/bad news situations that the Orioles didn’t have to deal with for much of the past couple of decades. This team is packed with young talent and also has plenty of slightly older young talent, which means that a few guys will just have to wait for an opening to develop.

The social media grouching about the possibility of keeping Ryan McKenna or Kolten Wong instead misses the point. If Holliday stays, he has to play and the Orioles would like to avoid a repeat of the Grayson Rodriguez situation, where he had to be sent back to the minors to deal with an unsuccessful debut instead of being fully ready to go.

Holliday had a great spring but has not proven he is ready to hit top-caliber left-handed pitching. The “agonizing” choice that Elias and his brain trust had to make was whether to allow him to take his lumps at the major league level or get more at-bats against lefties at Norfolk.

Of course, he’s not going to see a lot of top-quality left-handed talent in the high minors, but he will see some solid prospects and a few wily veterans at a level he spent relatively little time at during his first full minor league season last year. He’s a special talent and he probably would have been able to adapt up here pretty quickly, but he’s 20 years old and he shouldn’t have to.

There is going to be some grumbling that the Orioles are doing what they’ve always done with their top prospects – postponing their big league debuts into late April or May to preserve service time, but I don’t think this really is that, even if the club ends up gaining that benefit. The O’s finally have a real shot to reach the World Series, so it’s hard to imagine Elias looking five years beyond this October.

He said during Friday’s press gaggle that the O’s had such a healthy and productive spring training that it has created a talent bottleneck that could only be alleviated by holding back a group of prospects who played well enough during the exhibition season to earn spots on the Opening Day roster.

Elias also acknowledged that the roster situation is going to be fluid and Holiday’s fate was impacted to some degree by the likelihood of the club facing a lot of left-handed pitching during the first few regular-season series. But don’t be surprised if he gets the call the first time somebody on the infield comes up with a tight hammy.

Maybe there will be some happy irony to be found in the unpopular decision to option the game’s top prospect, since preseason excitement about this team would be at a generational high even without him. Holliday’s pending major league debut will add just another layer of excitement and intrigue for fans as the Orioles set out to defend their American League East title.

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