As Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said at a table in Camden Yards’ auxiliary clubhouse with a first overall pick beside him, he couldn’t help but reflect on the previous time he had done so.
Three years ago, the Orioles introduced Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman as effectively the face of their nascent rebuilding project. When they welcomed Oklahoma high school shortstop Jackson Holliday to Baltimore on Wednesday after officially signing him to an $8.19 million contract, a record for a high school draft pick, they added a player who they hope will add to their foundation, not begin it.
“It felt like we were just kind of starting something, and [Rutschman] was a big piece of a big project we were trying to build,” Elias said. “And I look now, and this has a totally different feeling to me adding Jackson’s talent right now. Our organization, I think, is in the healthiest spot it’s been in in a very long time. We’ve got a major league team, to their credit, that’s up here playing a really exciting brand of baseball, playing really well.
“They’re young, they’re talented, so many of them are going to be here for a while. And we’re sitting on the No. 1 farm system in the game. And now we have somebody that I expect is going to one day develop into one of the very best players in the game.”
The son of former Major League Baseball seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday, Holliday hit .685/.749/1.392 with 17 home runs and 30 steals in 40 games at Stillwater High School, setting a national record with 89 hits. Having entered his senior year perceived to go near the end of the first round if not later, he added strength and speed to become a player in the mix for the Orioles’ No. 1 pick.
Sitting between Elias and agent Scott Boras, Holliday said he was looking forward to joining an organization on an upswing. Elias said he will report to the team’s Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Florida, on Thursday to eventually play in the Florida Complex League, where he will likely end his first professional season. Holliday said he hoped it was the first step in a quick ascent back to Camden Yards.
“I want to be up here as fast as possible,” Holliday said. “I would love to come out hot and continue to play well. So, hopefully, two years or less would be my goal. I know it’s a big goal, but I think that I can do it.”
The Orioles believe Holliday has that potential, with Elias reiterating they see him as a five-tool shortstop. He showed that potential during a batting practice session at Camden Yards, lacing 100 mph line drives around a ballpark he once chased flyballs at during his father’s playing career.
Along with his father, joining Holliday for the introduction was his mother, Leslee; his girlfriend, Chloe Cox; and his three younger siblings, Ethan, Gracyn and Reed. Reed spent Holliday’s introductory press conference wearing an Orioles home run chain. While Holliday heads to Florida, the family will return to Oklahoma, the first time the 18-year-old will be on his own.
Matt Holliday, who played 15 years in the big leagues and drew laughs when he introduced himself as “Jackson’s dad,” said his oldest son is prepared for what’s ahead.
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“The way he’s played — he plays the game hard, he’s not flashy, he doesn’t showboat — I think people appreciate his ability,” Matt Holliday said. “I never really think it’s been that hard for him to navigate that. … I’m not really concerned about that. I think he’ll handle that really well and he always has handled that well.”
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde chatted with Matt as Holliday took batting practice. They had played against each other as minor leaguers, Hyde recalled, adding that during his days coaching the Chicago Cubs, Matt Holliday was the last player he wanted to see coming up in big spots in matchups with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Hyde said the benefits of being the son of a major leaguer come from both nature and nurture.
“When you grow up in the clubhouse and you grew up around major league people, major league players, you understand more than anybody that they’re just like anybody else and also the work ethic it takes and what these guys kind of go through,” Hyde said. “I think being around that’s extremely helpful because it’s so hard to do to be up here and to play well up here. I think being able to see it firsthand and being around is a huge benefit.”
Elias said the Orioles have no aspects of Holliday’s game they’re looking to change as he enters their player development system, which is part of why they took him first overall. Holliday, though, is looking forward to learning from those the organization puts around him as it works toward the next phase of its rebuild.
“They have the No. 1 farm system, so I’m excited to get in and start learning from people that know more than me and get better,” Holliday said. “It’s awesome to be able to get into an organization that is heading in such a great direction. I’m hoping that I can get here fast and contribute in a good way.”