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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Orioles Call Up Jackson Holliday Right Before Service Time Cutoff

  • He is the son of former MLB All-Star Matt Holliday.
  • Baltimore could add an extra draft pick if Holliday wins Rookie of the Year. 
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball’s top prospect is coming to the show this spring after all.

Jackson Holliday, the son of former All-Star Matt Holliday, joined the Orioles on Wednesday after just two weeks in Triple A, the team said. The 20-year-old shortstop had a strong showing in spring training and was hitting .333 through 10 minor league games this season. 

Why, then, did the Orioles send Holliday down to the minors in the first place?

Service-time manipulation has long been a source of contention in MLB. In 2015, Kris Bryant hit .425 in spring training with the Cubs, but he started the season in Triple A before being called up two weeks later to get an extra year of control with his contract. The Reds called up top prospect Elly De La Cruz last June, well after the cutoff for him to earn a year of service. Many prominent prospects, including Pete Alonso in ’19, have sidestepped the service time game and started Opening Day on a major league roster. Service time is directly tied to player compensation. Players can’t be eligible for arbitration without accruing three years of service time (in most cases) and won’t reach free agency until they hit six. Unlike other sports, hitting free agency in baseball is a relatively rarefied achievement, and where the real paydays lie for veteran players.

The league’s new collective bargaining agreement rewards teams through the Prospect Promotion Incentive, which gives teams an extra first-round pick if a prospect is able to attain a full year of service time and win Rookie of the Year. Holliday is one of the main contenders for the award, but he will face competition from the Rangers’ young duo of Wyatt Langford and Evan Carter. Regardless, he will be able to hit the 172 days required for a full year of service if he stays with the Orioles for the rest of the season. Had Baltimore waited until the end of the week to promote Holliday, he would have missed the mark. On Friday, the Orioles are having a “Jackson Holliday Debut T-Shirt” promotion for Friday’s game against the Brewers.

The Orioles have a bumper crop of prospects and young players right now. In 2022, Baltimore kept catcher Adley Rutschman in the minors until late May. He was promoted too late to get a full year of service time, so as a result, the O’s were unable to gain the extra draft pick. They have been more aggressive since. In ’23, the team had shortstop Gunnar Henderson on their Opening Day roster. Henderson went on to win Rookie of the Year, giving the team the 32nd pick and a $2.84 million pool bonus in July’s draft. 

Because of Henderson, Holliday will shift to second base in the major leagues, forming one of baseball’s youngest and most highly touted middle infields. 

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