SARASOTA, Fla. — He tore around the bases, a blur in white and orange, and reached third standing up. He lifted an off-speed pitch down the right field line and then was off to the races for his first two-hit game this spring.

Jackson Holliday, baseball’s top prospect, provided a scintillating taste of what he can offer the Orioles in Baltimore’s 9-8 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday. In doing so, the 20-year-old infielder issued a reminder of why he’s pushing for a major league debut despite being drafted less than two years ago.

To count a handful of games in February too heavily would be foolish, regardless of whether the results are strong or poor. Holliday, for instance, struck out five times in his first three games. The turnaround Thursday was equally as small, given it’s judged from just four at-bats.

But there must be a start to any surge, and Holliday’s breakthrough — however minor — is encouraging for his bid to make the opening day roster. His opposite-field single and pull-side triple showed the bat control at his disposal.

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“I’m getting more comfortable,” Holliday said. “I’m not to the level I’d like to be swinging it. Last two games have started to tick up a little bit, so happy about that. I feel comfortable. It’s just a matter of getting at-bats and a matter of time before I start putting together good at-bats and getting a few more hits. I’m excited by the way it’s trending.”

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Holliday was just one of five high-level prospects playing at Ed Smith Stadium. There were four first overall picks: Adley Rutschman (2019), Henry Davis (2021), Holliday (2022) and Paul Skenes (2023). Orioles outfielder Heston Kjerstad was the second overall pick in 2020.

Just about all of those prospects stood out. Skenes hit 102 mph with his fastball in his lone inning of work, inducing a groundout from Holliday. Davis, Pittsburgh’s catcher, clubbed a three-run home run off Orioles ace Corbin Burnes.

“To be out there with four No. 1 picks is really special,” Holliday said.

His first plate appearance against Skenes, especially, would have drawn eyes had the game been televised.

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“It’s really firm,” Holliday said of Skenes’ arsenal. “I mean, he’s throwing 102. It’s pretty fast. I felt comfortable. … Maybe midseason form I like my chances in that at-bat, but it’s still early.”

Holliday has played second base in all four of his spring training starts, and that’s the position he’s likely destined for in 2024 at the major league level. He hasn’t had much action there, but before the game he worked near Kolten Wong, a recent addition to the Orioles.

Wong, a two-time Gold Glove winner at second, said he hopes to be an asset for Holliday on defense, even as Wong hopes to take offensive advice from the younger infielder. For Wong, being near Holliday was a unique experience. Wong played with Matt Holliday, Jackson’s dad, on the St. Louis Cardinals and remembers a preteen Holliday running around the field and clubhouse.

“I texted Matt,” Wong said. “He said, ‘You feel pretty old?’”

Yes, said Wong, 33.

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But Wong could tell, even at that early age, that Jackson Holliday had potential. He worked at his craft throughout his youth, and now he’s showing it in spring training.

More than anything, Holliday’s ability to make rapid adjustments between plate appearances is reminiscent of a player with ample experience — not a 20-year-old in his second major league spring training camp.

“Just taking it at-bat to at-bat,” Holliday said. “I felt comfortable in the first one; the second one got away from me a little bit. Then just settling back in, sticking with my approach, staying in the middle of the field. I was able to hit a changeup, and usually when I can hit changeups up and through the middle of the field, I’m in a good spot. Happy with my last two at-bats. Two for my last two is probably how I’m going to think about it.”

Other notable moments

  • Shortstop Jorge Mateo clubbed two home runs, continuing a strong start to spring training. He has opened 4-for-10. Outfielder Kyle Stowers also homered, his second of the spring, as part of a 2-for-2 day with a walk.
  • Burnes said he focused particularly on his cutter command, noting that his arm-side cutters were “really good today,” but he wasn’t as pleased with glove-side cutters (the cutters moving in on a left-handed batter or away from a right-handed hitter). “The last piece of this thing is just keep hammering those cutters to the glove side,” Burnes said. “Got, what, four more outings until opening day? So we have plenty of time to work on that.”
  • Right-hander Craig Kimbrel made his first spring appearance for the Orioles, entering in the third inning and allowing a homer.