Image credit: (Photo by Jason Elmquist/Stillwater News-Press)
LOS ANGELES — For the second time in the last four drafts, the Orioles held the No. 1 overall pick. The first time around, in 2019, there was a clear-cut top prospect in Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman.
The dynamic was very different this year. The Orioles considered five players for the No. 1 overall pick, and it came down until very late in the process before they made their selection.
After much deliberation, they got the player they wanted.
The Orioles drafted Stillwater (Okla.) High shortstop Jackson Holliday with the first overall pick in the 2022 draft on Sunday. Holliday, the son of seven-time all-star outfielder Matt Holliday, was the 2022 Baseball America High School Player of the Year and finished No. 3 on the final BA 500 draft rankings.
“It was a very difficult decision in a good way,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said. “I liken it to deciding what to order at a five-star restaurant. This was a very good class. We boiled it down to five players. We had advocates and rationale for taking any one of the five players. But ultimately, you’re only allowed to come home with one of them, and we picked our favorite one.”
Holliday, 18, blossomed his senior year into one of the top players in the draft class. He stood out as a talented but hardly elite prospect on the summer showcase circuit and into the fall, but he came out bigger, stronger and faster in the spring and rapidly rose up draft boards. He hit .685 with 17 home runs, 79 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in 40 games for Stillwater and led the Pioneers to the Oklahoma 6A regional playoffs.
Orioles scouts Ken Guthrie and Jim Richardson, who both live in Oklahoma, identified Holliday’s improvements early in the spring and alerted the front office. Elias spent multiple days personally scouting Holliday, including seeing three games and a workout, and the O’s put him in their mix for No. 1 by late March.
“He was not viewed as a top couple pick sort of guy in the fall and the summer last year and was not somebody that we focused on in our winter meetings for this pick, but we liked him and were planning on following him for the draft,” Elias said. “And then the physical gains that he made over the winter enabled his swing to just come together in a more postured and balanced way. His performance shot through the roof and the speed and power ticked up. When the local scouts in the Midwest in the early part of the spring to see him, it was like there was a fire alarm in the scouting industry, and we certainly poured in there very heavily from that point forward.”
Elias identified, by description but not by name, Wesleyan (Suwanee, Ga.) High outfielder Druw Jones, IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) outfielder Elijah Green and Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee as three of the other players the club considered with the No. 1 overall pick. He did not identify the fifth player in consideration.
Elias said the decision to take Holliday wasn’t unanimous in the draft room, but there was a strong consensus for him to be the pick.
“We had arguments for any of these five guys, but this was a player we were all happy with,” Elias said. “He was a ‘yes,’ so to speak, for anybody involved in this process. Ultimately, he was our favorite choice, and this is the way we went tonight.”