Credit where it’s due: The Orioles wanted Jackson Holliday to get better in Triple-A, and he did.

Entering Tuesday, his hard-hit rate at the level was 58.1%, up from 43.1% in 2023. His average exit velocity was 93 mph, up from 90.6 mph, and he chased pitches out of the strike zone less often (20.2% in 2024 compared to 21.3% in 2023).

He did what was expected of him, which was to take high-quality at-bats and improve at the same rapid rate he has in his entire professional career. Whatever the threshold for Holliday being ready was, he reached it, and the Orioles did what was expected of them all winter and spring. They’ve called Holliday up to the big leagues, and it’s a good thing. This team will be better for it.

Whatever the reason the Orioles spent 10 games without Holliday was, 10 games was enough. There is a place in the modern baseball world for platoon advantages and versatility. There’s value in every advantage a team can find, near term and long term.

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But you don’t build an elite talent pipeline to try to win at the margins. The Orioles adding another elite talent to their roster will help them more than anything else could.

Three weeks ago, the view here was that it was cynical for the Orioles to think Holliday was somehow so inexperienced against high-level left-handed pitching and so soon into his time as a second baseman that his mere presence would tank the beginning of the season in a competitive playoff race.

The right-handed hitters they carried in his stead almost served to accomplish that same purpose, with the Orioles thus far one of the league’s worst offenses against southpaws even after they destroyed Patrick Sandoval on opening day. All four of their losses came in games against lefty starters. It was a thesis that, in a vacuum, made sense. Stack the roster with right-handed hitters for those occasions.

But it wasn’t happening in a vacuum, which made the fact that it didn’t work all the more frustrating. Part of that had to do with Holliday, a generational talent who would have benefited from the experience against the high-level left-handed pitching his résumé lacks if he’d been in the majors, even if the Orioles might not have been better off for it in those individual games they were trying to win.

From the club’s perspective, it has a strong understanding of how long players need to defeat a level before moving up. Adley Rutschman had 238 plate appearances in Norfolk, split over two seasons, with 53 of those coming in 2022 as he returned from a biceps injury before his debut. Had he been healthy and the Orioles included him on their roster to start that season, he would have joined the team having ended 2021 with 185 plate appearances there.

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Gunnar Henderson was in Norfolk for 295 plate appearances before debuting in August 2022. Holliday being added to the roster with 147 plate appearances — basically half that — shows precedent has little standing in this conversation. The timing might.

Holliday, by virtue of being recalled with 172 days left in the season, can accrue a full year of major league service time, six of which are required for a player to reach free agency. Calling up Holliday on Thursday would have kept him from a full year and potentially delayed his free agency by a full season; doing so Wednesday keeps that intact.

Under MLB’s prospect promotion incentive, the Orioles are eligible for a bonus draft pick if Holliday accrues a full year of service time and wins AL Rookie of the Year. The flip side is, if they had waited to call up Holliday and he was one of the top two finishers for the award, he would have been credited with a full year anyway. This move likely keeps the Orioles out of the MLB Players Association’s crosshairs on the matter as well.

The timing — one day after an off day for both Holliday in Norfolk and the Orioles — makes it hard to objectively call the club control aspect coincidental. The most charitable interpretation of the last few weeks is that the Orioles have arrived at the right place via an unnecessarily indirect route.

Holliday fared better in these 10 Triple-A games than he did last year, but he also spent a week working walks off a shell-shocked Charlotte pitching staff that didn’t particularly want to pitch to him or any of the other Orioles prospects in the Tides lineup.

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Even if he struggled over the season’s first two weeks with the Orioles, the club’s own developmental principle of challenging players at the highest possible level suggests he’d have been better for it than what happened in Norfolk.

Would the Orioles have been? Unclear. Maybe Holliday would have sat or fared poorly against the lefties the major league team saw, and they’d be in the same place they are now. It’s not a terrible start to the season, but it could be better, considering how they lost the games they have and the poor quality of at-bats that caused some of those losses.

Holliday will certainly address the latter part of that, because the Orioles were right in believing that stacking wins early was going to be pivotal to a playoff return. The Yankees are off to a flying start, and the AL East looks like it’s going to be as tough as ever.

It struck me when, not long after the news broke that Holliday would begin in Triple-A, manager Brandon Hyde explained a roster move on the pitching side by saying they were “just trying to take our best 13 pitchers at the moment.”

Without Holliday, it didn’t feel like that was the case on the other half of the roster. Adding him changes that, and no matter how long it took for it to happen, the Orioles have 172 days and 152 games with one more elite young talent than they started with.

Jon Meoli is the Baltimore Banner's Orioles columnist and head women's ice hockey coach at Loyola University Maryland.

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