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There’s Merit in Jackson Holliday Playing Second Base

When the Baltimore Orioles selected Jackson Holliday first overall in 2022, it was with the assumption that he was destined to become the shortstop of the future for the organization. Scouting reports and assessment deemed Holliday as a fixture at the position thanks to the athleticism and skill at the position, so it was natural to assume that when he was going to make his MLB debut, it was going to be shortstop or bust. Well, Orioles general manager Mike Elias said that Holliday would play “a lot” of second base during spring training, Jake Rill of MLB.com reports.

Now, this notion may have caught people off guard, but once you sit and consider the reasoning behind such a decision, there is a lot of merit to the decision-making process for the Orioles.

The goal for the Orioles is to find a way to fit Jackson Holliday on the MLB roster. The majority of the Orioles’ infield is comprised of young talent such as 2023 American League Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg. Ramón Urías can also be thrown into the mix as can Jorge Mateo, which can make the infield a little unclear as to how things will line up. While it may be a problem on paper for the Orioles to try and fit all this middle infield talent together, it’s still possible if they can find a way to squeeze them together.

The Orioles value defensive versatility. Both Henderson and Westburg can handle third, second, and short. Holliday adds to that mix by also being capable of playing those three positions. This fact immediately gives credit to the idea of Holliday getting plenty of reps at second base during spring training. With the athletic versatility of these three players, the Orioles could configure them any way they want to and not necessarily be stung by a player being out of position.

“We’re bringing him into camp with a chance to make the team, and he’s going to be laser-focused on making the team,” Baltimore general manager Mike Elias said during an appearance on MLB Network Radio.

“I see Jackson being able to bounce back and forth between second and short, depending on the day’s alignment,” Elias said in the report by Rill. “I think you’re going to see him at second base a lot during Spring Training, and I know [manager] Brandon Hyde is going to try to put the kid in a position to make the team and give him a real shot for that.”

Holliday has earned positive marks as a shortstop, one of the game’s most demanding positions, and the Orioles have shown no inclination of moving him off the position in the long term. As stated before, the goal is to find the path of least resistance to getting the 20-year-old phenom on the Opening Day roster. Holliday has spent plenty of time in his brief minor league career getting occasional reps at both second base and third base. A strong arm and decent range make him a valuable glove around the diamond, giving the Orioles flexibility to match defense with the days alignment.

Westburg is projected to get the bulk of playing time at second base on the depth chart, but Holliday should slide in there on certain occasions while playing shortstop mainly. An infield could feature Holliday at second, Henderson at short and Westburg at third, or an alternative of  Westburg at second, Holliday at short and Henderson at third. Depending on the offensive tendencies of the opposing team, the Orioles can place the right fielders in the right locations.

There could also be talk of Henderson taking over short the bulk of time in 2024, to take advantage of his exceptional range that is underutilized playing third base. Taking the pressures of playing short as a rookie on a World Series contender as the number one prospect in baseball could also be on the minds of the Orioles as a way to put Holliday in a position to succeed. The quick rise of the young stars for the Orioles has done a lot of that leg work where Holliday doesn’t have to play the role of a savior for the team. He can not just fit in as a cog of the machine and give them some extra oomph this season.

The left-handed bat of Holliday helps balance the Orioles lineup further, all the more reason to find defensive positions for him to play. The lineup is well-balanced with Holliday in it, giving them the best possible lineup with the talent that they have.

Versatility is the name of the game for the Orioles and in the mentality of many players in today’s game. You’ll find a vast number of players opting to move off of a preferred position with the sole purpose of helping their team. Holliday could be adamant about not wanting to play anything other than short, but it’s a willingness to do whatever it takes to help the Orioles, and also make it to the big leagues. If his bat proves that he is ready for big league playing this spring, it makes all the sense in the world that he could be a regular starter at second base this season along with short. It’s worked out pretty well for Westburg and Henderson; surely lightning can strike thrice?

 

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