Elias, Orioles failed in managing expectations before reassigning top prospect Holliday 

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SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles demoting Jackson Holliday was never going to be a popular decision, especially after a strong spring that left many expecting him to be the Opening Day second baseman. 

Meeting with reporters at Ed Smith Stadium for more than 25 minutes following Friday’s announcement, general manager Mike Elias reiterated the consensus top prospect in baseball is “very, very close” and “very ahead of schedule” in his development. The executive advised it was “important to zoom out a little bit” for a young infielder still more than eight months away from his 21st birthday and less than two years removed from being selected first overall in the 2022 amateur draft. 

Elias then attempted to explain the Orioles’ reasons for reassigning the lefty-swinging Holliday to minor league camp after he batted .311 with seven extra-base hits and a .954 on-base plus slugging percentage in 48 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League. 

(Mike Elias discusses Friday’s roster decisions at Ed Smith Stadium.)

“Because of how fast Jackson moved in his lack of professional experience — 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,” said Elias, stating his preference for Holliday to be ready to play every day upon arriving in the majors. “And that’s something that’s going to be thrust in his face when he’s in the American League East, whether that’s the starter or a reliever that they bring in to match up against him in the seventh inning. 

“On top of that, we’ve got a position change undergoing. It’s something that we’re fully optimistic about. He’s a quick study. He’s got the tools to play second base. He made strides here in this camp, but I think 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’s ready to go in the American League East and Yankee Stadium in a night game. There’s a lot that goes into that.” 

These are perfectly reasonable points about someone who began last season at Low-A Delmarva and played at four levels in his first full professional season, a remarkable feat. Holliday’s numbers at the Triple-A level — a .267/.396/.400 slash line in 91 plate appearances — were impressive, but not so exceptional to deny any benefit of additional seasoning at Norfolk. He also made just 20 starts at second base compared to 96 at shortstop in the minors last year.  

Holliday batted .296 with a .776 OPS in 124 plate appearances against lefties in the minors last season, but none of his 12 home runs came against southpaws and he struck out at a higher rate and walked at a lower clip against them than he did facing righties. Elias also noted how facing left-handed pitching was such an early challenge for Gunnar Henderson, who was well over a year older than Holliday will be as a rookie.

The problem is these factors were true long before the start of spring training and an offseason in which Elias repeatedly touted Holliday’s chances of making the club on Opening Day. 

Even if you take the explanation at face value, this was poor management of expectations at a time when spring excitement in Baltimore is greater than it’s been in decades. If Elias had simply downplayed Holliday’s Opening Day chances throughout the offseason while reciting the same talking points he mentioned on Friday, the reaction wouldn’t have been as harsh. 

Fans have a right to be annoyed. 

With Baltimore’s best prospect looking the part of someone ready for the majors over the last several weeks, the reassignment begs questions over whether this was driven solely by service time and the desire to maintain an extra year of club control in 2030. Of course, Elias answered in the way any baseball executive would in such a spot.  

“No, it’s unfortunate that we have the specter of that to talk about,” Elias said. “I think this is about an organization that prides itself in developing elite talents [and] putting a player in the best position for his own long-term success and for the short- and long-term of the team and the roster that he’s on. And this is a 20-year-old who has played 18 games in Triple-A and is also in a position change and has not faced or had the opportunity to produce a ton against upper-level minor-league left-handed pitching in particular.”

For what it’s worth, Holliday went 2-for-14 with nine strikeouts and a walk against lefties in Grapefruit League action with one of those hits being a grand slam off Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi, a veteran major leaguer who posted a 3.86 ERA last season. But the overall quality of Holliday’s spring work leads you to wonder if there was anything he could have done to earn an Opening Day roster spot without multiple injuries to incumbent infielders forcing the organization’s hand. 

Ultimately, we’ll wait to see what happens on multiple fronts. 

Elias wasn’t willing to reveal any further roster decisions beyond the moves made Friday, but it’s looking more likely that Kolten Wong, Ryan McKenna, Tyler Nevin, or Nick Maton will grab the final position player spot on the Opening Day roster. And while none of those individuals would figure to play as much as Holliday would have, such a swap looks bad on paper and in terms of perception. It’s really difficult to say you’re putting your best foot forward replacing Holliday with any of these players at this stage of their respective careers. 

There’s also the Prospect Promotion Incentive program to consider.

There’s no guarantee that delaying the start of Holliday’s service clock will indeed result in an extra year of club control when you remember Adley Rutschman finished second in 2022 AL Rookie of the Year voting to earn a full year of service time despite not making his major league debut until late May. That’s why many figured the Orioles would handle Holliday more like they did Henderson, who fetched Baltimore the 32nd pick in this year’s draft after being on the Opening Day roster and winning AL Rookie of the Year in 2023. 

Is Elias willing to wait until June or even July to eliminate any chance of Holliday winning Rookie of the Year and guarantee that extra year of team control? 


With the Orioles coming off a 101-win season and an AL East division championship, how this impacts them from a competitive standpoint in 2024 will be paramount in judging this decision. No matter when Holliday makes his debut, recent history suggests he’s likely to struggle for at least a short time, and the games will grow more critical the deeper the Orioles advance into the summer. Do you want his major league learning curve coming at a time when the club potentially has a smaller margin for error rather than getting those difficulties out of the way earlier in the season? 

On the other hand, what if Holliday is as special as advertised from the day he eventually arrives, but the Orioles get off to a slow start and ultimately miss the postseason by a slim margin on which you’d look back and wonder if his presence would have made the difference? Is retaining Holliday for 2030 really worth hurting your chances in 2024? 

Or perhaps this all works out fine with the Orioles gaining that extra year and Holliday debuting in plenty of time to play a critical role for a team advancing to the postseason for a second straight year. 

Regardless, the managing of expectations was a failure, and that’s a shame considering the overall level of optimism for the new season. The harsh reaction could have been avoided or at least minimized if Elias had been more upfront about Holliday’s roster chances over the winter. It’s not unreasonable starting a 20-year-old at Triple-A, but giving off the impression all offseason that Holliday had a real chance for Opening Day was the problem.

“This is where it landed, but I by no means would characterize this as a decision that we didn’t meet about extensively and agonize over with coaches, front office, everybody who has a voice in this process,” Elias said. “But I’m confident that it’ll play out as the right thing to do.” 

You certainly hope so. For this year’s sake as well as the future. 

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