It has been a quiet offseason in Baltimore for the baseball team wearing orange and black. As we approach February, the only meaningful offseason transaction has been the addition of Craig Kimbrel to fill a one-year hole created by the injury to Felix Bautista.
However, there is plenty of excitement on the Inner Harbor. As is an annual tradition, Orioles fans eagerly await any prospect rankings from MLB Pipeline to create excitement for the future. Over the last four seasons, Pipeline ranked an Orioles hitter as the number one or two prospect in baseball as Adley Rutschman finished second on the list in 2021 and first in 2022, Gunnar Henderson topped the list in 2023, and now Jackson Holliday in 2024.
Jackson Holliday tops baseball top prospects list ahead of 2024 season
Of course, both Rutschman and Henderson have torn up the big leagues since their debuts and all indications point to Holliday doing the same, hopefully as soon as this season. Also in Baltimore this weekend, the Ravens will hope to defend their home field as they take on the Kansas City Chiefs for a chance to play in the Super Bowl.
As I said, excitement is high in Baltimore as both teams held the best records in their respective leagues this season with more exciting prospects on the way. Let's look at each of the six prospects that landed in the top 100 on Friday.
1. #1 Jackson Holliday
Regular Birds Watcher readers understand all the accolades and impressive achievements Holliday has accrued. The Orioles selected him number one overall in the 2022 draft out of Stillwater High School in Oklahoma. Jackson is also the son of former MLB All-Star Matt Holliday and has a younger brother who is also working the ranks at the high school level and could very well be a future MLB star of his own.
Baseball runs in the Holliday family as his uncle, Josh would have been his college head coach at Oklahoma State had he not signed with the Orioles. There was some controversy when the Orioles selected Holliday as other prospects like Druw Jones and Elijah Green were also strong candidates. Needless to say, the early results point towards the O's making the right decision.
2023 was an absolute breakout campaign for Holliday as he played for every Orioles minor league team from Delmarva to Norfolk and absolutely tore it up at each level. Collectively, he had a .323/.442/.499 slash line in the minors last season in 125 games.
Of the four stops, he spent the most time in Aberdeen where he played in 57 games with a .314/.452/.488 slash line. The on-base percentage is particularly impressive as he drew 50 walks in 259 plate appearances for a 19.3% walk rate.
Pipeline graded Holliday positively in every facet of his game with a 70 overall ranking on the 20-80 scale which essentially is an elite ranking. For reference, Adley Rutschman also had a 70 overall ranking as a prospect before his MLB debut. Specifically, Holliday has a 70 rating for his hit tool, 60 for his power-hitting and running ability, and 55 for his arm and fielding abilities.
There is no doubt that Jackson can rake and there is a good chance that Holliday will begin the season in Baltimore on the Orioles' Opening Day roster. Whenever he does make his debut, Holliday will have high expectations and the hopes of making an immediate top-of-the-order impact for a World Series contender.
2. #17 Samuel Basallo
Of each of the six prospects on this list, Basallo has had the most emphatic rise to a top-level prospect as he was a key player in Mike Elias' plan to revitalize the O's presence on the international market but he has torn through the minors and has not yet celebrated his 20th birthday.
Similar to Holliday, Basallo played in several minor league levels with plenty of success at the plate. In 114 games, Basallo slashed .313/.402/.551. He spent most of his season in Delmarva as this was the first season he appeared in a game outside of the Dominican Republic or Florida. In 83 games in Delmarva, Samuel slashed .299/.384/.503 with 12 home runs and 35 extra base hits. Even more impressively, Basallo tore up Aberdeen to the tune of eight home runs in 27 games before his promotion to Bowie.
There is no doubt that Basallo can hit a baseball. Pipeline ranks him as a 60 on the 20-80 scale for both his hit and power tool. His arm also ranks as a 60 as he projects to potentially play in the majors as a catcher. His field and run tools are both below average but he still rates as an above-average 55 overall.
Of course, the elephant in the room regarding Basallo is Adley Rutschman. Regardless of how much Samuel rises, he will not take over Adley as a catcher in Baltimore barring some extremely unforeseen circumstances. He did play 28 games at first base in 2023 so his future may need to be as a first baseman if he stays in the O's organization.
3. #19 Colton Cowser
Cowser is the highest-ranked Orioles prospect to have already made his MLB debut. Expectations were high for Cowser in 2023 after tearing it up in 2022 in the minors. However, the results at the Major League level have not yet been there for Cowser which is why he enters 2024 as a prospect having only played 26 games in Baltimore.
At the MLB level, Cowser hit an abysmal .115 with only seven hits and two extra base hits in 77 plate appearances. That being said, Colton did have a strong campaign in Norfolk with a .300/.417/.520 slash line in 87 games. Colton is also still young as he turns 24 in March and also has a chance to make the Opening Day roster in Baltimore.
The biggest thing working for Cowser is that he is good, not great, at everything. He has a strong arm, good speed, is an able defensive player at all three outfield positions, and has proven that he can hit at the professional level. 2024 will be a make or break season for Cowser and it will be difficult for him to find consistent playing time as long as everyone is healthy which means Colton will need to take advantage of every opportunity he gets.
4. #30 Coby Mayo
Coby Mayo is another player who rose through the Orioles organization quicker than most expected which means he is close to making an impact at the Major League level. Mayo was a fourth round draft pick out of high school in Florida in 2020 and the offensive upside was apparent from the time he was drafted. Similar to prospects like Holliday and Basallo, Mayo propelled himself through the organization in 2023 with strong seasons in Bowie and Norfolk. Overall, Coby hit .290/.410/.564 in 140 games between the two stops and spent roughly equal time between the two teams. In those 140 games, Mayo hit 29 home runs with 77 extra base hits.
Simply put, Mayo is a strong human being as he ranks 70 on the 20-80 scale for his arm strength and 65 for his power tool. This strength means he projects as a third baseman in the majors and has the ability to tear up the ball.
As a right-handed power hitter, Camden Yards poses an obstacle with the behemoth of a wall in left field that has stolen home runs away from a similar hitter in Ryan Mountcastle. Also similar to Mountcastle, Mayo can overcome the wall with sheer strength and still could be a 30+ home run hitter in the majors.
5. #32 Heston Kjerstad
Heston Kjerstad has had an interesting journey to where we sit today. Of course, Kjerstad was drafted in 2020 which meant he could not play any competitive baseball the year he was drafted. Unfortunately, health issues further complicated his professional baseball journey as he did not make his professional debut until 2022 and only played 65 games that season.
However, Kjerstad tore up the Arizona Fall League that year and continued the momentum into 2023. Between Bowie and Norfolk, Kjerstad hit .303/.376/.528 before his September promotion to Baltimore where he continued to hit for power with two home runs and three extra base hits in 13 games.
Similar to several other prospects on this list, power is a strength for Kjerstad as he ranks 55 on the 20-80 scale with a 55 arm and 55 overall ranking. Heston is also similar to Colton Cowser in their abilities as all around players although Cowser is a better defensive player. Kjerstad also has a strong chance to make the Opening Day roster in Baltimore and will need to take advantage of his opportunities.
6. #63 Joey Ortiz
There is a clear trend with this list. All six players on this list are position players who are mostly approaching MLB readiness and several players, including Joey Ortiz, have already made their debuts but cannot find space on the roster for consistent playing time.
Similar to Cowser, Ortiz emerged in 2022 as a strong prospect and continued with a strong season in Norfolk but struggled in Baltimore in 2023. At the major league level, Ortiz had a .448 OPS and couldn't find any offensive rhythm. However, he had a .885 OPS in 88 games in Norfolk with some surprising power given his frame.
Defense is easily the biggest strength for Ortiz as he is 65-grade for his field tool and 55 for his arm. He mostly played second base by necessity at the MLB level last season but could play any infield position given his defensive prowess. The hope is that Ortiz can hit well enough to stick at the MLB level long-term.