Peter Schmuck: It’s no great mystery why the Orioles brought up top prospect Jackson Holliday sooner than expected - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Peter Schmuck

Peter Schmuck: It’s no great mystery why the Orioles brought up top prospect Jackson Holliday sooner than expected

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

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Top major league prospect Jackson Holliday didn’t figure to stay in the minors much longer, but when news broke on Tuesday night that the 20-year-old wunderkind was being called up by the Orioles, it still raised a number of questions.

Why now, for instance?

Why not next week and reserve an extra year of precious service time?

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How, if he supposedly needed to pile up some at-bats to deal with a perceived vulnerability to left-handed pitching, could he have accomplished that in less than two weeks?

Legitimate subjects for inquiry, to be sure, but it probably isn’t that complicated.

It seems fairly obvious that the Orioles required only a mild offensive slump to recognize that they needed a frontline second baseman with elite offensive skills a lot more than the Norfolk Tides.

It was going to be increasingly hard to justify keeping him down while the big league team sputtered at the plate, especially with the ridiculous offensive numbers Holliday and several of the club’s other top hitting prospects were putting up against Triple-A pitching.

Whatever the prevailing reason for the quick call-up, Oriole fans aren’t likely to spend a lot of time dissecting the decision-making process of O’s executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias. They’re probably on the internet picking out their seats for Friday night’s homestand opener against the Milwaukee Brewers, when Holliday presumably will make his Camden Yards debut.

The kid’s in the picture and everything he has done since the Orioles made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft screams that he is ready to play at this level. He danced through the entire O’s minor league system last season and took spring training this year by storm. Everyone just assumed that he would be in the Opening Day lineup, but there was much more to the decision to send him down at the end of March than to bring him back.

The Orioles had a Goldilocks spring training that left Elias struggling to fit everyone onto the Opening Day roster that the club needed to keep off the waiver wire. Maybe Holliday’s soft Grapefruit League numbers against left-handers just provided a convenient excuse that he swatted away with a long home run off a lefty in his first at-bat of the Tides’ season opener.

It still remains to be seen how quickly he is able to handle a daily diet of major league pitching, a daunting challenge that 2023 American League Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson became familiar with during the first two months of last season.

Henderson struggled to get and keep his batting average above .200 until June before blooming in the second half and finishing his rookie season with 28 homers, 83 RBIs, 100 runs and an .814 OPS. Maybe Holliday will settle in faster, but he’s 2 1/2 years younger than Henderson and had 360 fewer minor league plate appearances.

Elias stressed two weeks ago that he was holding baseball’s top prospect back because he didn’t want to find himself in the position of having to send Holliday down if he struggled at this level. Apparently, he has decided to take that risk.

The Orioles’ offense exploded for 24 runs in the first two games of the new season, but the offense was sluggish over the next seven games before waking up to spoil the Boston Red Sox home opener with a 7-1 victory at Fenway Park.

All-Star leftfielder Austin Hays and Gold Glove third baseman Ramón Urías have both struggled mightily at the plate and newly acquired utility infielder Tony Kemp has not made much of an impact. Clearly, against that unfortunate backdrop, it had become very difficult to justify leaving a potential superstar on the outside looking in.

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