Jackson Holliday Talks Hitting

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

To understand why Baltimore Orioles shortstop Jackson Holliday is the no. 1 prospect on our Top 100 list, look no further than Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin’s writeup of the 20-year-old phenom. They describe Holliday, the first overall pick in the 2022 draft, as “a sweet-swinging shortstop with above-average feel for contact and burgeoning power,” and close their evaluation by predicting that he “is very likely to become a 5-WAR shortstop who does everything well.” He has been spending time at second base this spring, because the O’s already have last year’s no. 1 overall prospect Gunnar Henderson at shortstop, but either way, stardom is seemingly in Holliday’s future.

That the promising youngster is the son of former big league slugger Matt Holliday is well known. It is also a primary factor in his advanced approach to hitting, as well as his overall understanding of his craft. Last season, which he began in Low-A and ended in Triple-A, the lefty-hitting Holliday produced a .323/.442/.499 slash line and 159 wRC+ across four levels of the minor leagues.

Holliday sat down to talk hitting over the weekend prior to a Grapefruit League game in Sarasota.

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David Laurila: How do you approach hitting?

Jackson Holliday: “As far as guessing pitches… that’s not something I’m great at. But I really enjoy learning about swings — different guys’ swings — how they work, and little things that can help, like cues. My dad has been around baseball for so long, and is such a hitting guy, and I got that from him. But yeah, my approach is pretty simple. I try to stay in the middle of field, stay on my backside, and hit the heater.”

Laurila: Are you basically hunting fastballs and adjusting from there?

Holliday: “Yeah. I sit fastball. I don’t sit offspeed unless there is a real outlier. That’s something I learned from my dad. He would sit heater and try to hit it to the middle of the field. If you’re in a good spot to hit a fastball to the middle of the field you can adjust to the offspeed pitch a lot better than you can sitting offspeed and trying to hit a heater.”

Laurila: How hard is it to be diligent with that? There are going to be times where your subconscious brain tells you, “He’s not going to throw a fastball here.”

Holliday: “Yeah. But I try to eliminate that. The few times last year I would think about a slider, I would get blown up by a heater. So, that’s definitely something I try to get away from. Sitting on a heater… my body adjusts the best that way. I’m actually hitting more offspeed pitches when I’m doing that.”

Laurila: How have you evolved in terms of your setup and swing?

Holliday: “What I have now is kind of the baseline of the swing I had as a senior in high school. I wasn’t very consistent, or very good, so I had to make some adjustments. I did some subtle cleaning up of my load, getting back to my leg kick, making sure my hands were in a position that I want to fire from. In spring training last year, I worked on it a little bit more, and I’ve continued to work on it. I want to be as consistent as possible.

“The leg kick, and making sure that I’m on my backside, is important to me. If you come out of your backside, your front side is going to open; bad things tend to happen when the front side opens. So, it’s kind of thinking that I’m going to hit a home run over the batter’s eye. I know that’s pretty unlikely, but it gets me in a good position to hit with my lower body. Again, I’m trying to fire through the middle.”

Laurila: What have you learned about yourself as a hitter recently, be it from data, hitting coaches, etcetera?

Holliday: “Certain things that I may struggle on. Last year it was the changeup at times. It became, ‘OK, I’m struggling on changeups; maybe I can keep my path a little bit longer.’ Once I got to Double-A, I really started to be able to handle them. I attack things I can get better at. I’m good at hitting fastballs up in the zone; that’s something I’ve worked on. I’m always finding little things to challenge myself with.”

Laurila: Hitting is about timing, regardless of the pitch. That in mind, what do you mean by “keep my path a little bit longer” on changeups?

Holliday: “A lot of it has to do with your front side. If you can hold your front side long enough you can stay on changeups. You don’t roll them over. If your front side opens, your back runs out of room and you roll them over. Just being able to keep that path going through helps me stay on changeups and offspeed pitches. Even if I’m out front, I still have room to flip it over the shortstop’s head or drive it into the gap.”

Laurila: In thinking middle, are you more trying to let the ball travel, more trying to catch it out front, or is that something you try to avoid thinking about?

Holliday: “I try not to think too much about my swing during the game. That’s something that you can do in the cage — maybe you can work on catching it out front a little bit more, like on a cutter or a slider — but once the game starts it’s all about competing. I’m trying to make sure my body is in a good position to do that.”

Laurila: Do you still talk hitting with your father?

Holliday: “Absolutely. He was a pretty good hitter, so I trust him. He’s also known my swing ever since I was a little kid, so it’s very easy to talk to him about it. I think he has a pretty good grasp on good qualities for me.”

Laurila: How similar are you as hitters?

Holliday: “The approach is pretty similar. Obviously, he’s a lot bigger than I am and had a little more thump. We’ve both got the leg kick. So there are similarities, but he was a different hitter than I am.”

Laurila: Is hitting fun?

Holliday: “It’s very difficult, but it’s also probably the most rewarding… I mean, whenever you do square a ball up, or drive a ball in the gap, or go 4-for-4, it’s rewarding because it is so challenging. I tell people all the time how hard hitting really is. If you can do it in the major leagues, hats off to you. It’s definitely the most difficult thing to do in sports.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts?

Holliday: “My favorite swing right now is Corey Seager’s. That’s something that’s cool for me. I really like to watch him hit. If I had to model my swing after anybody’s, it would be his.”

Laurila: How similar is Seager’s swing to your own?

Holliday: “I don’t know. It’s kind of different, because he’s a lot bigger than I am, but if I could pick a swing to imitate, that would be it.”

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Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Jacob Berry, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Justice Bigbie, Cavan Biggio, Charlie Blackmon, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Will Brennan, Jay Bruce, Triston Casas, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Garrett Cooper, Gavin Cross, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Paul Goldschmidt, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Austin Hays, Nico Hoerner, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Jacob Hurtubise, Tim Hyers, Connor Joe, Jace Jung, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Heston Kjerstad, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Royce Lewis, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Marcelo Mayer, Hunter Mense, Owen Miller, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Lars Nootbaar, Logan O’Hoppe, Vinnie Pasquantino, Graham Pauley, Luke Raley, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Marcus Semien, Giancarlo Stanton, Spencer Steer, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Spencer Torkelson, Mark Trumbo, Justin Turner, Trea Turner, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Alex Verdugo, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Anthony Volpe, Joey Votto, Christian Walker, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Bobby Witt Jr. Mike Yastrzemski, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Jimmember
3 months ago

I have read them all. Great work, David!