It came as no surprise that catcher Adley Rutschman ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball when MLB Pipeline released its preseason top-100 list, but one of the writers who worked on that list has his eye on the player the Orioles took after Rutschman in the 2019 MLB Draft, too.
Five Orioles cracked the top-100 list: Rutschman (No. 2), right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (No. 27), outfielder Heston Kjerstad (No. 69), left-hander DL Hall (No. 70) and left fielder/first baseman Ryan Mountcastle (No. 77). And MLB Pipeline senior writer Jim Callis believes shortstop Gunnar Henderson, the Orioles’ second-round pick in 2019, could join the top-100 list in 2022.
Henderson, 19, hit .259/.331/.370 with the Gulf Coast Orioles in 2019 after signing for $2.3 million, well more than the slot value of $1.77 million for the No. 42 overall pick. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound shortstop was expected to start the 2020 season at Low-A Delmarva, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the minor-league season. Instead, Henderson worked out at the Orioles’ alternate site at Double-A Bowie and took part in the club’s fall instructional camp in Sarasota, Fla.
As much as Callis believes in Henderson, he said it was just too soon to put the shortstop on MLB Pipeline’s top-100 list this time around.
“He just hasn’t played enough to show you that he’s going to hit. You know the tools are there, but he’s only played in the GCL,” Callis said on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 29. “I really think if Gunnar had gone to the [South Atlantic] League in 2020, there’s a chance he would’ve hit .280 with 20 homers and maybe we would say, ‘He’s got a better chance to stick at short than [we thought].’ Assuming we have a normal year, which we all hope for, I think Gunnar’s on the top 100 a year from now.”
Given his size, Henderson might eventually have to slide over to third base, but Callis says Henderson has plenty of athleticism and arm strength, which should be enough to make him a solid defender at the hot corner. Callis compared Henderson’s physical profile to that of Los Angeles Dodgers star shortstop Corey Seager, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds.
Seager was taken No. 18 overall by the Dodgers out of high school in 2012. He hit all the way up the ladder — he is a career .307/.368/.523 minor-league hitter — but faced some questions about whether he’d be able to stick at shortstop because of his size. Seager has been a quality big-league shortstop since his arrival in the big leagues in 2015.
“If you look at [Henderson] — and I’m not going to say he’s going to be this good because this guy was the best prospect in baseball at one point — but physically, it’s kind of a Corey Seager profile when Corey Seager was coming out of high school,” Callis said. “People didn’t think Corey Seager was going to stay at shortstop and he has. Corey was a first-round pick. He was more highly regarded than Gunnar, but that’s kind of what you’re looking at [in terms of] potential. This guy has a lot of Corey Seager in him.”
But Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, is the gem of the Orioles’ farm system. Like Henderson, Rutschman worked out at the alternate site and took part in instructional league last year. The catcher received high marks for his work at the dish and behind it at Bowie last summer. He’s expected to start 2021 with the Baysox whenever the minor-league season gets underway.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Rutschman hit .254/.351/.423 across three levels in 2019 after authoring a legendary career at Oregon State that included a College World Series title (2018) and a Golden Spikes Award (2019). Callis believes Rutschman has the chance to be a .300 hitter who mashes 30 homers and plays Gold Glove-caliber defense behind the plate, with his floor being a .250 hitter who swats 20 homers and plays solid defense.
That floor may sound a lot like Matt Wieters, the one-time uber-prospect who went to four All-Star games and won two Gold Gloves during his tenure in Baltimore (2009-2016). But Callis sees Rutschman as a better hitter, receiver and athlete than Wieters at the same stage (Rutschman turns 23 on Feb. 6).
“That’s where I would have the optimism if I’m an Orioles fan going, ‘Oh no, you guys were telling me Matt Wieters was the best prospect in baseball and then he was merely good,'” Callis said. “This guy is better than Matt Wieters was at the same stage of his career. It’s crazy, too, because Matt Wieters was a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover and people are disappointed.”
For more from Callis, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles