MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo says Orioles shortstop prospect Gunnar Henderson has a chance to be regarded as a top-50 prospect in baseball should he continue playing well throughout the minor-league season … but there are some potential shortstop options for the Orioles in the 2021 MLB Draft, too.

Henderson was taken No. 42 overall in the 2019 draft out Morgan Academy in Alabama but hadn’t gotten much extended playing time before this season due to the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020. However, he did work out at the Orioles’ alternate site at Double-A Bowie last summer and take part in instructional league last fall, meaning he was able to keep developing.

Henderson, who turns 20 in June, is hitting .318/.395/.621 with Low-A Delmarva entering play May 26. Henderson recently slid into MLB Pipeline’s top-100 prospect list, and Mayo said the No. 98 overall ranking is probably light for the 6-foot-2, 210-pound shortstop.

“He’s got every tool. He’s way more athletic than he should be if you looked at him,” Mayo said on Glenn Clark Radio May 20. “He’s big, but his body control is really impressive. He can really hit. There’s power. I think that he could move up. Why don’t we start with top 50 so I don’t oversell.”

“I think that he has a tremendous ceiling,” Mayo added. “Folks within the Orioles’ player development have been kind of pushing on me, saying, ‘You need to look at this guy more as a top-100 guy.’ They’re right and we’ve got on him on there now and I think there’s only a big up arrow next to his name.”

When Mike Elias was hired as Orioles GM in November 2018, the farm system was deeper in pitchers than position players, and the infield was particularly thin. Elias’ second draft pick as Orioles GM was Henderson, who represents the kind of infield prospect the Orioles haven’t had since Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop were making their way through the minor-league system.

Henderson has displayed serious opposite-field pop so far this year:

The biggest question about Henderson may be where he ends up on the diamond. He has played seven games at short and six at third so far this year. It’s unclear what position will fit him best long term, but there’s no doubt Henderson is well on his way to being considered one of the better prospects in the game, according to Mayo.

“I have a feeling he’s going to make a big move up,” Mayo said. “Now, he’s a big dude. There are a lot of big shortstops. He’s crazy athletic. I think he’s proven that he should be able to play shortstop, but it’s hard to know with a guy that young who isn’t really done in terms of physical maturity — if he slows down a step, does he have to move to third? It’s possible.”

The Orioles will have a chance to add another high-level infielder to their system in the 2021 MLB Draft if they choose to go that route with the No. 5 overall pick. There are several shortstops who could be in play, including high schoolers Jordan Lawlar, Marcelo Mayer, Brady House and Kahlil Watson and UCLA’s Matt McLain.

Stocking the minor leagues with infielders has been a focus of the Orioles in recent years. In addition to drafting Henderson in the second round in 2019, the club also took shortstops Joey Ortiz and Darell Hernaiz early in the same draft. In last year’s five-round draft, the Orioles nabbed shortstops Jordan Westburg and Anthony Servideo and third baseman Coby Mayo.

That said, Jonathan Mayo emphasized that teams don’t draft for need in baseball. Lawlar and Mayer both could be off the board before the Orioles pick, but either would be exciting additions to Baltimore’s system.

“Marcelo Mayer, he’s a left-handed hitter, so people sort of see his offensive profile as similar to Corey Seager with a defensive Brandon Crawford,” Mayo said. “Jordan Lawlar is more athletic. He’s faster. People believe in Mayer’s bat a little bit more. When people see Lawlar, they dream Derek Jeter or they see a Carlos Correa or a Xander Bogearts. We’re talking a tall, really athletic shortstop.”

“You’re splitting hairs here over who is better — slightly different skill sets, both extremely talented,” Mayo added.

For more from Mayo, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Joey Gardner

Luke Jackson

See all posts by Luke Jackson. Follow Luke Jackson on Twitter at @luke_jackson10