Later this month, when Jackson Holliday accrues a week’s worth of Triple-A plate appearances, he’ll join a club of some of MLB’s biggest names.
Before they became stars in the big leagues, Bryce Harper, Ronald Acuña Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Ozzie Albies did what Holliday is about to do. Those four players are among a shortlist of prospects since 2006 to reach Triple-A by their age-19 season and total at least 20 plate appearances, according to FanGraphs.
Holliday, the No. 1 prospect in baseball, is set to be promoted to Triple-A Norfolk to continue his remarkable rise through the Orioles’ minor league system. About 14 months ago, the shortstop was drafted with the first overall pick out of high school. This week, he’ll play at his fourth level of the season.
In late July, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Holliday reaching Triple-A would be “borderline unprecedented.” And the way Holliday achieved it might be more impressive than his predecessors.
In total, seven players have achieved the feat since 2006: the four stars and three low-level prospects who have yet to see the majors. Those players — Yeyson Yrizarri, Robert Perez Jr. Luis Vázquez — were not inside their teams’ top 10 prospect lists on MLB Pipeline at the time, and all returned to the lower minors in subsequent seasons.
The only player in the group to be drafted in the first 10 rounds was Harper, whom the Washington Nationals selected No. 1 overall in the 2010 draft. The two-time National League Most Valuable Player was drafted at 17 years old and reached Triple-A in his second full professional season in 2012. Holliday, who was 18 when the Orioles selected him last July, will do so to end his first full professional campaign.
Harper hit .297 with an .894 OPS between Single-A and Double-A in 2011. At age 19, the outfielder played 21 games in Triple-A before receiving his big league call-up.
Acuña, Guerrero and Albies were all signed as international free agents at 16 or 17 years old and also reached Triple-A in their third professional seasons.
In his age-19 season, Acuña hit .325 with an .896 OPS. He made his MLB debut the following year in 2018 for the Atlanta Braves. Guerrero posted a .323 average and .910 OPS in his first full professional season at 18. He crushed Double- and Triple-A pitching the following year with a 1.073 OPS and was in the majors the next season in 2019 for the Toronto Blue Jays. In Albies’ age-19 season, the shortstop hit .292 with a .778 OPS between the minors’ top two levels. He also debuted the next year in 2017 for the Braves.
Holliday’s numbers in his first full professional season are better than all of his predecessors, and only Guerrero’s age-19 season is better than those Baltimore’s wunderkind has put up this season. In 107 games, Holliday is slashing .333/.451/.517 — good for a .968 OPS — with 26 doubles, nine triples, 10 home runs, 23 stolen bases and 85 walks against 101 strikeouts.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said Monday he knew Holliday, the son of seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday, was mature beyond his years this spring when the shortstop spent the first month in big league camp.
“It was fun having him in spring training,” Hyde said. “That was pretty rare, too, to have a high school kid in his first spring training to be in major league camp. … I was just really impressed with how he handled everything, how he fit in. He didn’t try to do too much. A lot of young guys try to do too much, especially in their first big league camp, especially at that age. And he just was really consistent.
“He’s obviously got great bloodlines, been around big league players a lot and I think that’s unbelievably helpful. And he’s extremely talented, also, so, yeah, happy for the year he’s having.”
But the fifth-year manager and former minor league skipper admitted he’s never witnessed what Holliday has done this season.
“I have not seen that,” Hyde said. “This would be my first one.”
1. Triple-A Norfolk corner infielder Coby Mayo
Another big week, and Mayo’s Triple-A numbers are starting to look like the ones he’s used to putting up. In his first 28 games with Norfolk, the 21-year-old hit .194 with a .682 OPS. But he’s since put up a .316 average and 1.150 OPS in 16 games, including a 6-for-22 stretch last week with three home runs, seven walks and six RBIs. After posting a 1.026 OPS in Double-A, the club’s No. 3 prospect has a .864 OPS in Triple-A.
2. Double-A Bowie outfielder Jud Fabian
Fabian’s first two and a half months in Double-A have been strange. The Orioles’ No. 9 prospect, according to Baseball America, is hitting just .172, but he’s smacked 14 home runs in 55 games. Last week, the 2022 second-round pick went 5-for-18 with two home runs, five RBIs and eight walks. Between Aberdeen and Bowie, Fabian is slashing .225/.351/.450 — good for an .800 OPS.
3. Triple-A Norfolk right-hander Chayce McDermott
Jorge López rejoined the Orioles over the weekend after they traded him at last year’s deadline, a return that is the latest evidence of a trade that’s paid off. The other deadline deal Baltimore made last year also looked even better Sunday, when right-hander Chayce McDermott, whom the Orioles acquired in the Trey Mancini deal, threw a career-high seven innings of one-run ball. McDermott is pitching even better in Norfolk than he did in Bowie before his promotion. In 45 2/3 innings with the Tides, the 25-year-old has a 2.56 ERA and 30.9% strikeout rate.
4. Low-A Delmarva outfielder Matthew Etzel
No member of the Orioles 2023 draft class is hitting better than Etzel. The 10th-round pick slashed .333/.462/.531 for a .992 OPS in 25 games between the Florida Complex League and Low-A to earn his promotion, alongside first-rounder Enrique Bradfield Jr. and second-rounder Mac Horvath, to Aberdeen.
5. Triple-A Norfolk second baseman Connor Norby
Norby’s stock has fallen this year, but with three weeks remaining in the International League season, the 2021 second-round pick is hitting .287 with an .828 OPS. He recorded a hit in all six games last week to extend his streak to nine. After struggling in April with a .658 OPS, he’s posted an OPS at or above .800 in every month since. The 23-year-old went 9-for-26 with four doubles and two home runs last week. Norby, a former top 100 prospect who is now ranked as the club’s 11th-best, has 36 doubles and 18 homers on the season.
The top prospect not featured so far
Technically, Colton Cowser, the club’s No. 2 prospect, would fall into this category. But he played just two games last week before joining the Orioles for two days and returning to Norfolk. The next-highest prospect, meanwhile, made his return to the field after a brief stint on the injured list. Catcher Samuel Basallo, Baltimore’s fourth-best prospect, went 5-for-7 with four runs, a double, three home runs, six RBIs and four walks in two games for the IronBirds. After posting an .887 OPS for the Shorebirds, the 19-year-old has a 1.004 OPS in 22 games in High-A.
International acquisition of the week
Frederick Bencosme has struggled for much of the season with Aberdeen, hitting .242 with a .308 slugging percentage. But the infielder recorded 11 hits last week in 28 at-bats with a double, triple and six RBIs. The 20-year-old opened the season as the club’s No. 29 prospect, according to Baseball America, but has since fallen out of the Orioles top 30.
Time to give a shout-out to …
While Etzel, Bradfield and Horvath earned promotions, they weren’t the best 2023 draftee last week. Tavian Josenberger, an outfielder the Orioles selected in the third round, went 7-for-13 with a triple, five walks and five RBIs for the Shorebirds. On the season, Josenberger is hitting .242 with a .698 OPS in 19 Low-A games.
Orioles at Angels
Tuesday, 9:38 p.m.
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