February 26, 2024

Baltimore Orioles 2024 top 20 prospects: Jackson Holliday leads top farm system


The Orioles’ system has been hyped for years, but the current group of players in this system came into the organization via the draft and trades, but also from international free agency, and they’ve also got a little more home-grown pitching coming than they’ve had since the new regime took over. It’s just as strong up top — MLB top prospect Jackson Holliday is the third prospect they’ve had to rank in the among the top two in the entire sport in the last five years — but with more depth across the board, so much so that they could trade away a top-100 prospect for Corbin Burnes and not even notice he’s gone. (I imagine their farm director waking up one day in June and saying, “huh, I haven’t seen Joey Ortiz in a while.”)

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Top 100 MLB prospects 2024: Keith Law’s rankings, with Jackson Holliday at No. 1

Orioles 2024 top 20 prospects

(Note: Seasonal ages as of July 1, 2024. Scouting grades are on the traditional 20-80 or 2-8 scouting scale.)

1. Jackson Holliday, SS (2024 top 100 ranking: 1)

Bats: L | Throws: R | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 185 | Seasonal age in 2024: 20

Holliday went from “maybe he’s a first-rounder” in the fall of 2021, his senior year of high school, to “oh my God he’s the best prospect in baseball” by May of 2023, an unbelievable rise — you could say meteoric, but I prefer to avoid such clichés — that’s a testament to both his natural talent and his incredible feel for the game. He played at all four full-season levels of the minors in 2023, dominating the first three before a solid stint at Triple-A Norfolk to end the year, with a composite line of .323/.442/.499 on the season and 101 walks against 118 strikeouts. He has exceptional hand-eye coordination, so even when he’s fooled by a pitch he often manages to make contact with it, even hard contact. I do think major-league pitchers will force him to shorten up his swing sometimes, as he nearly always swings full bore and no one has given him any reason to do otherwise.

He’s a 50/55 runner, likely to end up average once he fills out, a process that will begin as soon as he starts shaving every day. Holliday is a natural shortstop whose position wouldn’t be in doubt if the Orioles didn’t already have an incumbent there — and Holliday is a better defender than Gunnar Henderson at short — but he’s moved around the infield a little and could come up at third or second if Baltimore doesn’t want to dislodge the AL Rookie of the Year. He reminds me in several ways of Troy Tulowitzki, but has the advantage of the left-handed bat and has a better feel for the strike zone. I think he’ll hit .280-.300 with strong walk rates and 25-plus homers a year to go with above-average defense at shortstop, and that’s a profile that can win an MVP award.

2. Samuel Basallo, C (2024 top 100 ranking: 20)

Bats: L | Throws: R | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 190 | Seasonal age in 2024: 19

The Orioles refused to participate in the annual Latin American free-agent donnybrook for more than a decade, which continues to hurt their farm system even now that they’ve jumped back in because of the lag between when those players sign (typically at age 16) and when they emerge as prospects. Basallo was one of their first big signings in that market, earning a $1.3 million bonus in 2021. He debuted in full-season ball this year, hitting so well in Low A and then High A that he even got a four-game cup of coffee with Double-A Bowie to finish the season. Basallo just turned 19 in August and his bat is already very advanced, with a very short but powerful swing and what appears to be very good pitch recognition.

While his offense is ahead of his defense, he does project as a catcher, with a cannon of an arm and the hands and athleticism to handle the position; the risk is that his bat might be so advanced that it’s better to move him to another position so he can get to the majors, à la Bryce Harper, Wil Myers or Paul Konerko. The Orioles also have a pretty good young catcher ahead of Basallo, which might change Basallo’s trajectory, although it isn’t relevant for this ranking — Basallo projects as a power-hitting catcher with a strong OBP and the ability to control the running game, making him one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball.

3. Coby Mayo, 3B (2024 top 100 ranking: 27)

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 230 | Seasonal age in 2024: 22

Mayo hits the ball really, really hard, and he also hits it pretty often, which is a great starting point for any bat-first prospect; he drew 93 walks last year between Double A and Triple A to go with 29 homers and a 24 percent strikeout rate, which I think demonstrates his floor as “just” a three true outcomes hitter already. He’s 6-5 and listed at 230 pounds, so he’s got a big strike zone and some innate length to the swing just from the size of his arms. To his credit, he’s developed his eye at the plate over the past three years, with help from the Orioles’ staff, allowing him to make better swing decisions and look more for pitches he can drive to take advantage of that natural strength. There may always be some swing-and-miss here, notably on breaking stuff in the zone, due to his size and his wide setup at the plate, but a team could live with it because what he does on contact is so good — he hits it hard, and in the air, and can go the other way a little bit even though his power is mostly to his pull side.

He’s got a 70 arm that would allow him to play anywhere, but third base is probably an uphill battle because of his size — he’s athletic enough for it, but it’s hard for guys that tall to stay on the dirt and consistently get down for groundballs. He could certainly play first right now and I’d like to see him in right field. The left side of the Orioles’ infield is the most densely populated place in America, so a position switch might serve everyone’s needs anyway. He probably won’t add much value on defense, but won’t hurt you, and a 30-homer, 80-walk guy who posts high BABIPs because everything off the bat is 90 mph or better is an above-average regular who plays for every team.

4. Heston Kjerstad, OF (2024 top 100 ranking: 62)

Bats: L | Throws: R | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 205 | Seasonal age in 2024: 25

Kjerstad reached the majors last year in just his second pro season, and I don’t think enough attention has been paid to how tough a road he had from draft day to the big leagues. Kjerstad developed myocarditis after a bout with COVID-19 in 2020, missing all of 2021 while recovering from the condition, and when he returned in 2022 he looked rusty and had trouble catching up to good velocity — nothing like the player he was at Arkansas in 2019-20. Last year, he was all the way back and then some, making consistent hard contact and more of it than before; when the O’s picked him second overall in 2020, his high strikeout rates against SEC pitching stood out as a red flag, but last year he showed the best two-strike approach of his career and kept his season strikeout rate under 20 percent until he reached the majors.

There’s still more chase than you’d like to see in a corner outfielder whose value is mostly in the bat, and lefties are going to attack him with spin until he shows he can lay off it. Because he hits the ball so hard, so often, I think he can be an above-average hitter even if his strikeout rate drifts north of 25 percent, probably getting to 20-25 homers a year and a high BABIP as well. And maybe then I’ll stop joking about how his name sounds like the lead singer of a melodic death metal band or a storage unit you’d buy at IKEA.

5. Enrique Bradfield, Jr., OF (2024 top 100 ranking: 64)

Bats: L | Throws: L | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 170| Seasonal age in 2024: 22

Bradfield is an 80 runner and either a 70 or 80 defender in center, depending on whom you ask and perhaps when you see him, not that it matters that much in the end — he’s got two top-end tools, and that gives him a high floor and a lot of runway to work on the other aspects of his game. Bradfield seemed like a lock for a top-10 pick after his freshman year at Vanderbilt, when he hit .336/.451/.414 as a 19-year-old in the SEC, stealing 47 bases in 53 attempts, but somewhere, someone convinced him to change his swing to try to hit for power, and while he did go from one homer as a freshman to hitting 14 the next two seasons, his overall hitting went backward and I think helped Baltimore land him at pick 15 last season. (It did not help that Bradfield constantly tried to bunt for hits, putting himself behind in the count and doing nothing to right his swing. I have a lot of feelings about this.)

He’s not a power hitter, but he’s not powerless, if that makes sense — he is capable of putting 5-10 balls in the seats a year, but the more he tries to do so, the worse he’ll be as a hitter. Last spring, he was loading his hands extremely deep, taking a huge stride, opening his hips way too early, then collapsing his back side to try to lift — or will — the ball out of the park. He needs a simpler approach, like the one he had as a freshman, that focuses on putting the ball in play, as he’ll end up with a lot of extra bases thanks to his speed, and he does have enough strength to drive balls to the gaps and catch up to major-league fastballs. I don’t change players’ rankings or evaluations based on their parent organizations, since that could change at any time, but I think Bradfield is in an organization that will figure out what to do with him very quickly. At worst, you’ve got an elite fourth outfielder/pinch runner, while the ceiling here is huge defensive impact with an average bat.


Colton Cowser made his major-league debut last season. (Mike Janes / Four Seams Images / Getty Images)

6. Colton Cowser, OF

Bats: L | Throws: R | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 220| Seasonal age in 2024: 24

Cowser reached the majors last year but continued to struggle with the same issues he had in Triple A in 2022: He doesn’t hit lefties, and he doesn’t hit non-fastballs, or at least doesn’t do either of these things well enough to project as an everyday player. He’s a 55 defender in a corner with a 70 arm, and he can handle center on a short-term basis, so there are plenty of ways for him to generate value — and maybe get more reps in the majors to work on either of those two deficiencies. I think he’s a good fourth outfielder right now, with some small chance to become more because he can defend, can whack a fastball, and does make pretty hard contact.

7. Dylan Beavers, OF

Bats: L | Throws: R | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 206| Seasonal age in 2024: 22

Beavers was the Orioles’ second pick in 2022, but he did have a hitch in his swing that they have worked to reduce, to the point that last season it was barely noticeable in the second half. He moved up to Double A at the start of August and finished with a .321/.417/.478 line there, with a lower strikeout rate than he’d had in High A, which I think correlates with the swing changes. He’s played more right field than center and that’s probably his home. If he had more power — he hit 11 homers last year in 119 games — he’d be a top-100 guy, but in an outfield corner the offensive bar’s a little higher. I think he’s going to be a solid regular if the revised swing really is producing more and better contact.

8. Connor Norby, IF/OF

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 5-9 | Weight: 180 | Seasonal age in 2024: 24

I love watching Norby play, but I think I may have been a little too optimistic about his bat, as he ran into trouble in Triple A against better secondary stuff, although he still made enough contact (21.6 percent K rate) to get to 64 extra-base hits and a .290/.359/.483 line. If he could clearly stick at second base, he’d be an easy regular for someone — not Baltimore, but that’s a tough crowd — but he’s fringy there and might have to move around a bit to find regular playing time, playing some left and right field. If he threw better, third base would be a possibility, but his arm is short even for second. He plays very hard and grinds out at-bats — no, really — in a way that will keep him employed for a long time.

9. Cade Povich, LHP

Bats: L | Throws: L | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 185 | Seasonal age in 2024: 24

Povich had a rough year between Double A and Triple A, becoming especially homer-prone at the lower level (Bowie is a decent hitter’s park) and struggling some with throwing strikes at both stops. Nevertheless, there’s still starter upside here in a lefty with five pitches, with both the curveball and changeup possible 6s. It’s a lot of 91-93 mph with some run, enough to live on but not to be his primary pitch. I’m not sure if he needs both the cutter and sweeper, or if having that many pitches is hurting his command.

10. Chayce McDermott, RHP

Bats: L | Throws: R | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 185 | Seasonal age in 2024: 25

McDermott came over from Houston in the Trey Mancini deal, and he’s developed significantly since the trade, adding pitches and improving what he had already, to go from a likely two-pitch reliever to a probable starter. Left-handed batters smoked him in 2022, but he had no platoon split last year, and his changeup and cutter both look like at least 55s. If he throws more strikes, he’s got some mid-rotation upside, although right now I’d bet more on fourth/fifth starter. He’ll pitch at 25 this year, so I’m not expecting more stuff, but he could definitely refine his command and control further with more experience throwing the broader arsenal.

11. Mac Horvath, OF

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 195 | Seasonal age in 2024: 22

The Orioles’ second-round pick in 2023 is the sort of upside play they’ve often looked for with picks after the first round — he makes very hard contact with plus raw power and he’s a very good athlete, but he lacks a position and there have been questions about his ability and feel to hit. It’s a great swing that puts the ball in the air a ton, and in college he showed no two-strike approach; adding that would almost instantly make him more valuable. He’ll have to work to become an adequate defender in an outfield corner, but he’s athletic enough to do it. The O’s had him try second and third last summer after the draft; whatever they choose, I hope he gets to focus on just one position.

12. Kiefer Lord, RHP

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 195 | Seasonal age in 2024: 22

Lord spent his first two years in college at Carleton, which has never produced a big leaguer. During the pandemic, he went online to find ways to increase his velocity and went from 78-80 mph in the spring of 2020 to the mid-90s this past spring. He’s reached 99 and has high spin rates on the fastball, curve, and slider, with a delivery that should allow him both to throw strikes and to start. It’s a limited track record and he did wear down at the end of his 2023 college season at Washington, so the probability of him reaching his ceiling isn’t that high, but I like the upside.

13. Leandro Arias, SS/2B/3B

Bats: B | Throws: R | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 155 | Seasonal age in 2024: 19

Arias earned a $600,000 bonus in January 2022 and made his US debut last year, showing impressive contact skills already with solid quality for an 18-year-old in the complex league, although he’ll have to get stronger to keep his average up. He’s played all three infield spots and has a chance to stay at shortstop long-term depending on how the body develops.

14. Braylin Tavera, OF

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 175 | Seasonal age in 2024: 19

Tavera took home the largest bonus of Baltimore’s international free-agent class in 2022, $1.7 million, and had a solid US debut last year, playing center in the Florida Complex League with more contact but less power than anticipated. He was just 18, so it’s not as if all of the power projection was supposed to be there right away. It’s more of a contact-oriented swing, though, and there will probably be some adjustments to the finish to get more power as his body fills out. He’s in center now and could stay there.

15. Luis De Leon, LHP

Bats: L | Throws: L | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 168 | Seasonal age in 2024: 21

De Leon is a very projectable 6-3 lefty who already shows stuff, with plus velocity, a slider, and a changeup, along with a delivery that could let him start. It’s a little long and he probably needs to use his lower half more, but it’s workable. He’s walked 43 guys in 81 2/3 total innings in his two years in pro ball, with the walk rate reaching 14 percent in a late-summer promotion to Low A last year. He could go a million ways, with reliever the most likely outcome, but starter is certainly still a possibility.


Seth Johnson has had to work his way back from Tommy John surgery. (Greg Thompson / Icon Sportswire)

16. Seth Johnson, RHP

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 205 | Seasonal age in 2024: 25

Johnson returned last year from 2022 Tommy John surgery to throw 10 innings, which put him slightly ahead of schedule. Acquired from Tampa Bay in the three-team Trey Mancini deal, Johnson was 92-95 mph with two distinct curveballs, at least one of which was a 55, before the surgery, but didn’t have a real weapon for lefties and projected as a reliever. He’s a superb athlete and fields his position well, befitting his status as a converted infielder.

17. Juan Nuñez, RHP

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 5-11 | Weight: 190 | Seasonal age in 2024: 23

Nuñez was part of the Jorge López trade, which brought over Yennier Cano, Cade Povich, and a lefty named Juan Rojas who’s still just 19 but probably not a prospect. That’s still quite a return for López, though, especially as Nuñez is the third-best guy among the package. He sits more 92-94 but has touched 97 with an above-average slider and a fringy changeup, working with some effort that, combined with high walk rates (14 percent in High A last year) probably point to a bullpen future.

18. Justin Armbruester, RHP

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 235 | Seasonal age in 2024: 25

Armbruester is mostly 91-94 mph with a curve, cutter, and slider, nothing plus but with the ability to mix them enough to keep hitters guessing. It’s a stiff delivery and I don’t think he’ll have the command to start, but he could be a long reliever as soon as this year.

19. Luis Almeyda, SS/3B

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 180 | Seasonal age in 2024: 18

Signed in January 2023 for a franchise-record (for an international free agent) $2.3 million bonus, Almeyda had a brief debut in the Dominican Summer League last summer but was banged up and had just 69 unproductive PA before he underwent season-ending left shoulder surgery in August. He was born in New Jersey but moved to the Dominican Republic at age 15, giving him more game experience than is typical for international free agents, and he projects to plus power, with a very strong swing already that’s got the right finish for big power to the pull side. He’s a shortstop now but likely to move to third base as he fills out, with plenty of arm strength for the hot corner.

20. Jackson Baumeister, RHP

Bats: R | Throws: R | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 224 | Seasonal age in 2024: 21

Baumeister had a rough go at Florida State but the 2023 competitive balance round B pick is 92-95 mph with riding life up in the zone along with an average curveball and slightly below-average changeup. He has the size and delivery to start if the Orioles can help him substantially improve his command and develop that third pitch. I’m intrigued by what the O’s can do here.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

MLB 2024 farm system rankings: Keith Law ranks all 30 teams, Orioles are new No. 1

Others of note

• Outfielder Thomas Sosa had an excellent FCL season as an 18-year-old, showing some patience and some power. It’s going to be right field so there’s some pressure on the bat to keep developing but it’s a great start and he does project to 55-60 power in time.

• Infielder Max Wagner hits the ball hard, but it’s power over hit and he’s too pull-conscious, which Double-A pitchers exploited after a late summer promotion (28.5 percent strikeout rate, .252/.303/.414). He’s played third and second, with second the better fit, although it’s going to come down to his bat.

• Outfielder Tavian Josenberger was the Orioles’ second third-round pick in 2023, coming to pro ball with a history of hard contact and improving power but lower batting averages than you’d expect. He didn’t show any sort of two-strike approach in college, and that seems like an easy fix for the Orioles.

• Outfielder Jake Cunningham was their fifth-round pick after a down spring at UNC-Charlotte, where he was coming off an ankle injury that I think still prevented him from getting his lower half involved in his swing for power. At full strength, he’s got 55-60 power and similar speed, swinging and missing too often but with fourth-outfielder potential.

• Centerfielder Matthew Etzel was the Orioles’ 10th-round pick, a bet on pure athleticism, as he’s a 70 runner who blew some teams away with his force-plate measurements, and stole 16 bags in 21 games after signing. He’s a big kid with a small, slappy swing, and I think even a small adjustment might see him start driving the ball to the gaps and change his whole profile as a hitter.

2024 impact

Holliday should see the majors sooner rather than later, although they’ll have to move some players around and bench someone to clear a spot. Kjerstad and/or Cowser should see time in the outfield, with Kjerstad being the better bet to produce in my view. If they need a starter, McDermott should be the first guy up. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Seth Johnson appear this year in relief if he continues to progress in his return from Tommy John.

The fallen

Jud Fabian turned down over $2 million from Boston — and, according to rumors, even rejected the box of team swag they sent him — when the Red Sox took him in the second round in 2021. He went back to Florida but didn’t improve his stock, so the Orioles took him in the second round in 2022 and gave him a shade over $1 million as a bonus. He reached Double A last year without really making any adjustments to his whiff-heavy approach, hitting .177/.314/.399 with a 37.5 percent strikeout rate as a 22-year-old. He still has plus power and can still play center, and modo liceat vivere, est spes, but this is the hitter he’s been for three-plus years now and he’s going to get passed by waves of better prospects.

Sleeper

Almeyda is the big upside play here, but to be fair, I see at least a half-dozen prospects who could take big steps forward this year, from their international group (him, Sosa, Tavera) or some of their fliers lower in the draft (Lord, Baumeister, Etzel).

(Top photo of Jackson Holliday: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)





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