Top Orioles infield prospect Gunnar Henderson, who plays shortstop and third base for High-A Aberdeen, says it feels great to get going at the plate after a tough stretch recently, and he believes the slump he initially had with the IronBirds taught him how to handle those in the future.
On July 6, Henderson connected for his first home run for Aberdeen after starting 1-for-31 with the IronBirds (though he had 12 walks during that span as well). On July 9, Henderson hit two home runs for a breakout performance at the High-A level after starting the season at Low-A Delmarva.
“It was a tough stretch there, but I’m glad that I’m getting the experience while I’m young,” Henderson said on Glenn Clark Radio July 8. “Hopefully in a year or two I’ll be in the big leagues. If it happens again, I’ll know how to shorten the time period of it.”
Henderson used to think to himself about superstitions when he wanted to get out of a rut. However, people told him to not be superstitious because it would get a lot worse.
“I tried to be as normal as I possibly could and not try to do too much about it, but I just tried to let it work itself out,” Henderson said.
Henderson, 20, was drafted in the second round (42nd overall) out of an Alabama high school in 2019. Henderson is the No. 5 overall prospect for the Orioles, according to MLB Pipeline. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound infielder is hitting .172/.325/.344 with three home runs this season for the IronBirds entering play July 15. He hit .312/.369/.574 with eight home runs for Delmarva before being promoted.
Henderson said he and fellow infield prospect Jordan Westburg enjoy a healthy, competitive rivalry to make each other better baseball players — something Westburg echoed in an earlier interview. The 22-year-old Westburg, who played three years at Mississippi State, helped Henderson bust out of his slump.
“Man, it’s been great,” Henderson said. “Sometimes you run into some guys that you’re competing with that just want to see you fail, but it’s the exact opposite here. We both help each other out and he’s been a great help during that stretch. He’s just been helping me along the way.”
Henderson built relationships at the alternate site at Double-A Bowie last summer as well. He spoke about how it was nice to bond with the likes of D.L. Hall, Grayson Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman.
All three have had outstanding seasons. Hall had posted a 3.13 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 31.2 innings before going down with elbow tendinitis. Rodriguez has a 2.02 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 58 innings. Rutschman is hitting .274/.405/.491 with 12 homers entering play July 15.
“Going there and being myself, don’t try to do too much and just let my ability take over,” Henderson said of what he was trying to accomplish at the alternate site. “Being able to be there with Rusch, Grayson, and D.L., we’d all go hang out at the field and stuff.”
“We’ve been around each other for a while, so they’re my best friends here, have just always been around. Just being able to have that good camaraderie and joke with each other and have a good time,” Henderson added.
Henderson says that ever since he was in high school, he has heard from many outsiders that he is too big to play shortstop and should move over to third. But he believes he has what it takes to stay at the position and does not let negative opinions get him down.
“I don’t try to keep a certain body weight,” Henderson said. “I know I’m going to put on natural weight over the next few years and I know that with my athletic ability I’ll be able to stay there.”
Henderson spoke about how being able to play both third base and shortstop has helped him grow as a baseball player and about the benefits that might come with playing two positions. (He’s alternated between the two positions all year with Westburg.)
“Short, I play a lot with two hands to the ball, and third base, you really want to free up just using one hand,” Henderson said. “I feel like I’ve done that a lot in working with our infield coach, Tim DeJohn. We’ve worked with just sticking with one hand, doing drop steps and coming through the ball. I feel it’s really freed me up and helped me out at short as well.”
Henderson is very confident that he will be able to be promoted up to Baltimore and become the Orioles’ shortstop of the future in the coming years.
“Just my self-confidence, I feel like I can do it,” Henderson said. “I know a lot of people are saying that I’m too tall for this position, but I feel like I’ve proven to myself and proven to a lot of guys that that’s not the case.”
To hear more from Henderson, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Caroline Hurtt