SARASOTA, Fla. — The largest question hovering around Orioles spring training has been answered. Jackson Holliday, the top-ranked prospect in baseball, will not make the opening day roster.

Instead, Holliday will spend more time at Triple-A Norfolk, where he has played 18 career games. Even though Holliday impressed with his .311 batting average and .954 on-base-plus-slugging percentage this spring, those results didn’t do enough to convince executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias that Holliday deserved a place on the roster just yet.

The Orioles also optioned outfielder Kyle Stowers, the team’s home run leader in spring, to minor league camp, along with outfielder Heston Kjerstad.

Stowers, 26, also put together a strong spring, hitting .256 and mashing seven home runs, tied with Pittsburgh’s Oneil Cruz for the most in Grapefruit League play. But the left-handed-hitting corner outfielder faced an uphill battle, needing to outplay Kjerstad and Colton Cowser, both top-100 prospects and first-round draft picks.

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“I’m pretty tough on myself, so I always feel there’s more I could’ve done,” Stowers said. “I always think there’s areas which I can improve. But I feel like I had a good camp and I think I made the decision hard. The cards didn’t go my way this time.”

It’s possible the O’s will call upon Stowers later in the season. The 2019 second-round pick has hit just .207 in 48 big league games, but he turned heads in just 19 Grapefruit League games.

Kjerstad, a top-50 prospect according to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America, got off to a slow start in Florida, collecting just four singles in his first nine games. The 25-year-old eventually turned a corner, finishing with a .256 average, but he had just one extra-base hit — a double — in 35 at-bats.

Kjerstad’s powerful left-handed swing propelled him to the big leagues last September, and he was a somewhat surprising inclusion on the American League Division Series roster. But his inability to play center field made him difficult to carry as a fourth outfielder. Kjerstad will head to Norfolk, where he boasted an .870 OPS in 76 games in 2023.

Catcher David Bañuelos, infielder Coby Mayo, infielder/outfielder Connor Norby and right-handed pitcher Albert Suárez were reassigned to minor league camp in addition to Holliday.

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Considered one of the best power hitters in the Orioles’ farm system, Mayo also impressed in spring with a .326 average and a .969 OPS. He drew rave reviews for his work at third base after adjusting his arm slot on throws.

The 20-year-old Holliday received praise throughout the spring for the way he conducted himself in the clubhouse and on the field. His plate appearances showed a level of poise and understanding of the strike zone well beyond his years, particularly as camp progressed.

Early in the spring, Holliday struck out more frequently. He admitted there were a few borderline calls that didn’t go his way, “but, hey, it’s spring training, right?” Holliday said. He brushed them off and didn’t press at the plate.

Holliday also displayed strong defense at second base. He’s a natural shortstop, and while there are similarities between the positions, there are different spins off the bat to the right side, and the throwing angles are vastly different.

The Stillwater, Oklahoma, native said he’s felt comfortable with the pressures that go with major league camp, and he can thank his vast experience in clubhouses for some of that. Holliday is the son of seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday.

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When manager Brandon Hyde was asked during the last week of spring training games whether Holliday looks like a major leaguer, he said: “It’s hard to say he doesn’t.”

But Holliday won’t be one yet.

Holliday shot through the ranks last year. He began in Low-A Delmarva for 14 games before jumping to High-A Aberdeen, where he spent the largest amount of time. He needed just 36 games at Double-A Bowie (where he hit .338) before he proved himself worthy of a Triple-A challenge.

There, with Norfolk, Holliday’s batting average slipped slightly. He hit .267 in those 18 games, but he also walked 16 times — a reassuring sign that his understanding of the strike zone is at a high level. Counting all four levels, Holliday hit .323 with 12 homers.

This winter, Holliday made it a focus to add strength. Matt Holliday said his son decided to “gain a little bit of muscle and probably put on 10 pounds. He attacks his weaknesses really well.”

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With Jackson Holliday missing out on the opening day roster, Baltimore is expected to heavily feature an infield configuration that includes reigning American League Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson at shortstop and a combination of Jordan Westburg, Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías at second and third bases. The latter two provide versatility and depth — as well as more major league experience than most on the infield dirt.

When Holliday arrived at spring training last month, he had his eyes set on making the roster.

“I’m as ready as I can be, I think,” Holliday said. “I’m excited.”

He did just about as much as a player can do to prove himself. He’ll still have to wait.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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