Jackson Holliday is among the non-roster players who received an invitation to big league Spring Training with the Orioles. There was never any doubt the sport’s top prospect would be in MLB camp as he tries to lock down a spot on the Opening Day roster. Baltimore will take advantage of exhibition play to get the 2022 #1 pick experience at both middle infield spots.
General manager Mike Elias told 105.7 The Fan (X link) on Tuesday that the O’s will get Holliday “a lot” of work at second base in camp. The 20-year-old has started 25 games at the keystone in his minor league career. Holliday has made 110 starts at his primary shortstop spot. While the O’s certainly aren’t moving him off the infield’s most demanding position, there’s no harm in building his experience on either side of the second base bag.
Baltimore has plenty of infield talent even after including Joey Ortiz in the Corbin Burnes trade. Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson can handle either position on the left side. Jordan Westburg split his time between second and third base while posting a solid .260/.311/.404 batting line over his first 228 MLB plate appearances.
Elias said the O’s would like to have a left-handed hitter who could factor into the second base mix, where the righty-swinging Westburg is in line for the majority of the playing time. Holliday could fit that bill once he’s officially called up, occasionally taking second base reps against tough right-handed starters (with Henderson sliding from third base to shortstop in that scenario). Baltimore acquired another lefty-hitting infield option, Nick Maton, in a small trade with Detroit last night.
The glut of infield talent should push last year’s Opening Day shortstop, Jorge Mateo, out of the regular lineup. The speedster remains on the roster despite speculation he could be traded or even non-tendered. Elias told The Fan that Mateo will see a decent amount of outfield run in Spring Training as he prepares for a utility role. While Baltimore has played Mateo mostly in the middle infield over the past two seasons, he has seen action in center field during his career.
Barring injury, Mateo isn’t going to be a regular on the outfield grass. He’s a good enough athlete to cover all three spots behind the projected starting trio of Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander. Top prospects Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad reached the majors last year. Kyle Stowers, Ryan McKenna and Sam Hilliard are all on the 40-man roster as well.
Hays found himself in the news this week, as the righty-hitting outfielder triumphed in his arbitration case against the club. He secured a $6.3MM salary for his second of three trips through that process. Hays is on track to get to free agency after the 2025 season, but his camp seems amenable to working out a long-term deal.
Francis Marquez, Hays’ representative at the MAS+ Agency, told Danielle Allentuck and Andy Kostka of the Baltimore Banner that there were no hard feelings coming out of the hearing. That’s not always the case, as some players bristle at being criticized by team representatives in what is an inherently adversarial proceeding.
“It could’ve been something that would’ve derailed a lot of good faith that has been built, and it did not,” Marquez told the Baltimore Banner. “Unabashedly, Austin is an Oriole, and he feels that he is young enough and he’s good enough to be a member of the Orioles for a long time, not just the time that he has in the arbitration system. So I think in an ideal world, 100%, Austin Hays would like to be a player who just wears an Orioles uniform during his career.”
It’s unclear whether the team has any interest in retaining Hays beyond his six-year control window. Marquez told Allentuck and Kostka that there have not been any extension talks to this point. With highly-regarded prospects like Cowser, Kjerstad, Stowers and last year’s first-round selection Enrique Bradfield Jr. in the system, Baltimore could decide to wait things out on their current starting outfield.
There’s ample long-term payroll space for the O’s if they decide to begin committing to some members of the core, Hays or otherwise. Baltimore’s only obligations beyond the upcoming season are a $1MM salary for star closer Félix Bautista and option buyouts to Craig Kimbrel, Danny Coulombe and Cionel Pérez.
Baltimore fans are hopeful the incoming ownership group will sign off on the kind of long-term deals which the team hasn’t made since John Angelos became point person. The incoming group led by David Rubenstein is set to take control of 40% of the franchise, pending approval from MLB’s other owners. (He’d assume a majority stake upon the passing of Peter Angelos.) Matt Weyrich of the Baltimore Sun reported that a nine-person committee discussed the terms of the sale agreement at this week’s owners’ meeting. Weyrich suggests that MLB could move quickly to approve the sale based on their familiarity with Rubenstein, perhaps voting on it within a couple months.