Fantasy baseball: Shortstops to drop for Jackson Holliday

Jackson Holliday is joining the Baltimore Orioles. Who should you cut to add him to your fantasy team? Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

Everyone celebrate, as Jackson Holliday is here!

Baseball's universally regarded No. 1 overall prospect, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2022 amateur draft, and the son of seven-time All Star and four-time Silver Slugger award winner Matt Holliday, Jackson Holliday received the call to the majors from the Baltimore Orioles late Tuesday night. He'll presumably take over their starting second base role beginning on Wednesday night against the Boston Red Sox, and play there regularly (if he's not shifted to shortstop at some future point) for years to come.

Despite much attention surrounding his quest to break spring training camp with the Orioles -- Holliday hit .311/.354/.600 with two home runs over his 15 Grapefruit League games, a stat line plenty deserving of his doing so -- he instead began the season with Triple-A Norfolk, where he had concluded the 2023 season.

At the time it appeared he might begin 2024 as the Orioles' every-day second baseman and he was rostered in 62.9% of ESPN leagues one week in advance of the U.S. Opening Day (March 28). On that March 28 date, when it became clear he would in fact begin in the minors, that roster percentage dropped to 53.8%. By Tuesday, that number had shrunk to 42.7%.

That's an opportunity, fantasy managers: Holliday was out there in more than half of ESPN leagues just one day ago -- and he might still be available in yours. Remedy that immediately.

Despite his being all of 20 years and 128 days old, Holliday's fantasy potential is projected already as good as all but his position's elite -- not the Bobby Witt Jr., Corey Seager or Trea Turner types, but a couple of tiers beneath that -- and we've seen more than a few times over the past half-decade a widely regarded top prospect delivering an immediate, meaningful fantasy impact. The chance that happens again here makes the universal pickup worth it.

Consider Holliday's projections:

  • Our preseason projection for Holliday had him hitting .274/.358/.383 with nine home runs and 11 stolen bases per 162 games.

  • Steamer projects Holliday for .257/.355/.386 and a 12 HR/11 SB pace.

  • Derek Carty's THE BAT X projects Holliday for .257/.331/.379 and an 11 HR/13 SB pace (again, those are all per 162 games played).

Now, those numbers on the surface might not seem like much, but consider that they amount to a 0.50 fantasy point per plate appearance rate. Just to compare that to three other mid-range shortstops' projections, hot-starting youngsters Elly De La Cruz's average is 0.52 and Oneil Cruz's is 0.46. Steady veteran Dansby Swanson's is 0.50, and percentage points beneath Holliday's. Bear in mind that projections almost always take a conservative approach to prospects, because of the nature of translations of these players' minor league statistics.

As we also now have the advantage of Statcast data in Triple-A ballparks, we can also attest that in Holliday's 28 games at that level between late last season and early 2024, he has enjoyed very promising rates: a 91.4 mph average exit velocity, with 6.7% Barrel and 48.3% hard-hit rates. To compare, those aren't far off the 2023 numbers of Michael Harris II (90.9, 10.0%, 48.5%), Jose Ramirez (90.0, 7.0%, 40.4%) or De La Cruz himself (91.2, 8.5%, 4.9%).

Power might be the piece of Holliday's game that takes the longest to jell at the big-league level, but his hit tool is plenty ready, and he figures to continue exhibiting some of the best plate discipline in the game. The projections serve to keep fantasy managers from instantly shooting for the moon with our expectations. The skills persuade us to take the chance on his rapid professional development -- he has gone from being a Stillwater, Oklahoma, high school prospect to a major leaguer in one year and 206 days, without skipping a beat -- extending into his first taste of the majors.

So with that in mind, let's have some fun with lists. Here are five shortstops -- understand that, per ESPN's position eligibility rules, Holliday's position is initially determined by his 2023 professional games played, but he will add 2B eligibility after 10 in-season appearances there -- you should let go now in order to take the chance on Holliday's considerable upside:

Jackson Merrill, SS/OF, San Diego Padres: Here's the easy one first. Merrill's potential, while good, does not match Holliday's. Holliday possesses the better hit tool of the two, and Merrill, at least thus far in his big league career, has been swinging at a concerning number of non-strikes (39% chase rate).

Jeremy Pena, SS, Houston Astros: While his improved contact rate thus far (88.9%, compared to 76.0% over his first two seasons) is encouraging, Pena's free-swinging nature at the plate isn't a great mix for points-based scoring. He's also lacking in the contact-quality department in a way that Holliday shouldn't.

Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Colorado Rockies: Those home games at Coors Field are appealing, as he's a .285/.329/.448 career hitter who averages 2.05 fantasy points per game there and, if you're a manager who likes to piece positions together, keeping Tovar around is rational. His entire package, which includes his poor 1.31 points per game career average on the road, however, places him beneath Holliday's caliber.

Carlos Correa, SS, Minnesota Twins: This would have been a blasphemous suggestion only a few seasons back, but he is no longer the same feared hitter he once was -- and his injury risk has become an increasing concern as he approaches his 30th birthday. His .258/.345/.433, 19-HR rest-of-season Steamer projection seems just about right, and it's awfully ho-hum.

Dansby Swanson, SS, Chicago Cubs: The bold one on the list, Swanson is a plenty productive and consistent performer who has averaged 2.20 fantasy points per game since the beginning of 2019 -- and better than 2.1 in four of the last five seasons (2021's 2.02 excluded). While it is true that "reliable" has value in fantasy, aiming for a notch above that level is always preferred -- especially in shallow leagues such as our standard format. Besides, the projections above say it, as Holliday's modest numbers are already regarded as being points-league equal.