On the second pitch he saw at the Triple-A level on Wednesday night, Orioles top 100 infield prospect Gunnar Henderson smoked a homer to right field. It came off left-hander Ethan Small, the Brewers' No. 7 prospect who has pitched in the big leagues this year and has a 2.41 ERA at Triple-A. So yeah, nice debut.
The same night the player that moved to Triple-A with him, Jordan Westburg, had two hits, two RBIs and a double. While Henderson’s first Triple-A homer came on his second pitch at that level, Westburg waited for his second game to hit one for Norfolk. So, also nice debut.
The Orioles have to be delighted to see those highly ranked players moving up and hitting right away. No slumps at the moment for Henderson, who has an OPS of 1.035 this year heading into last night, or Westburg, who is at .856.
What made this week the right time for the Orioles to move up the dynamic duo?
“They both had played very well in Bowie and had amassed enough plate appearances for us to feel it was enough of a signal that they needed a greater challenge," Orioles director of players development Matt Blood told me this week. "It’s nice that they were able to move together, but that was more happenstance that they were playing that well. And all indicators were pointing to it’s time for a promotion."
Henderson went 3-for-9 and scored five runs his first three games before taking an 0-for-3 last night with a walk as Norfolk lost 7-0 at Nashville. Westburg went 1-for-3 with a single and walk in that game and is 6-for-12 with two doubles, a homer and five RBIs to begin his Triple-A career.
The two players will essentially split time at the shortstop spot in Norfolk with Henderson also playing at third base and Westburg also getting starts at second and third. Terrin Vavra also just returned to the Norfolk active roster and he will play some at second base and center field.
Before the move up of Henderson and Westburg, Richie Martin had made 29 shortstop starts for the Tides and Cadyn Grenier 25. Now some adjustments are being made.
“If you looked at the boxscores this week, you can see that Richie Martin has played outfield. Shed Long will play in the outfield, Grenier will play in the outfield. As well as fill in around the infield. Guys will be moving around and we’ll be versatile,” Blood said.
But it is an exciting week in the organization when Norfolk could bat four of the Orioles' top 15 prospects in the first four spots in its order with Vavra followed by Henderson, Westburg and Kyle Stowers in recent games.
Henderson is ranked No. 37 in the Baseball America top 100 and as their O’s No. 4 prospect. He is No. 46 in the MLBPipeline.com top 100 and their No. 3 for the team. Westburg is No. 6 per MLB Pipeline and No. 7 per Baseball America. Stowers is No. 8 on MLB Pipeline and No. 9 on Baseball America, and Vavra is No. 13 on Baseball America and No. 14 on MLB Pipeline.
“Just feels like another step closer to getting to where we want to be,” Blood said. “It’s nice to see these players developing and performing well. Exciting watching them play those first few games. They have already made a huge impact on that team offensively and on defense, and the goal is for them to eventually have a similar impact on the major league team.”
Blood is happy the duo of Henderson and Westburg is off to a good start with the Tides, but he also will be watching how they handle it when the hits are not falling.
“They’ll have stretches that are good and not so good,” he said. “That is just part of the development process. It was nice they got out of the gates playing well. But from my perspective it can also be productive to see them go through challenges and struggles as well. And when that time comes, we’ll use it as teaching moments and it will only help them when they face adversity in the big leagues.”
Meanwhile at low Single-A Delmarva, 20-year-old right-hander Carter Baumler is off to a roaring start as his comeback from Tommy John surgery is proceeding very nicely.
He has made three outings of three innings each, throwing nine scoreless for the Shorebirds and giving up just four hits. He’s shown a fastball in the 92-94 mph range and a plus breaking ball with four walks, 15 strikeouts and an 0.89 WHIP.
Blood indicates that Baumler is likely to stay with the Delmarva team for the foreseeable future. Right now, the Orioles are just delighted to see the kid healthy and throwing well. He was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 draft and his draft slot amount was $422,300. The O’s signed him for an overslot bonus of $1.5 million.
“He’s on a pretty strict plan, coming back from Tommy John,” said Blood. ”So he will pitch on Wednesdays and it will be controlled innings. Just let him get his feet underneath him this season.
“He looks great, under control. He’s a really mature kid, very competitive and nice to see how well he has bounced back from the surgery.”