After ROY season, can Gunnar Henderson still elevate his game?

For the Orioles and their fans, there must be both comfort and excitement in knowing that one of their best players is just 22 years old and might be about to get better.

Gunnar Henderson had a big spring – batting .417 and hitting a tape-measure homer Sunday - and now seems poised to have an even bigger year than last season with Opening Day now days away.

He won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2023 after batting .255/.325/.489/.814 with 29 doubles, nine triples, 28 homers, 100 runs and 82 RBIs.

He finished second in the AL in triples, sixth in runs, 11th in slugging and tied for 15th in OPS. He was eighth in the league MVP voting.

After a slow start last season, he produced an OPS of .849 his last 117 games.

Now can he take that OPS to .850? What about .900?

In the AL last season, just seven players that qualified for league leaders posted an .850 or better OPS and just three were at .900 or better with Shohei Ohtani at 1.066, Corey Seager 1.013 and Yandy Díaz .932.

Henderson told me that one thing he doesn’t do is look at a season and try to set some stats to try and reach.

“No, because I mean there are a lot of variables that go into it,” he said. “You could hit 100 balls in a row hard and they could all be outs and you hit one little bleeder and get a hit. So, just go out there and try to have the right process. I know if I put myself in the right position more times than not, I should be in a good spot for success.”

Henderson, who turns 23 on June 29, was a great hitter last year early in the count. It was a bit of a shift for him to get more aggressive early in counts. Through the minors, he knew the strike zone so well that at times he would wait on getting a middle-middle pitch to drive. But that pitch doesn’t always come.

So last year, when he swung at the first pitch, he hit .481 with an OPS of 1.410. Those are eye-opening stats, but there were actually seven players in the AL last year with a better first-pitch OPS. Still, that is very strong stuff for Henderson, whose OPS was 1.184 on a 1-0 count and .855 on 0-1.

He is confident that the 2024 Orioles will make another strong run at an AL East title, and he likes the club's chemistry about as much as its talent.

“We’ve got a good group, a fun group. We all just built off the relationships from last year. Looking forward to seeing what we can do," he said, adding the club does not feel pressure to repeat 101 wins.

“No. Just go out there and continue to play Oriole baseball. We've just got to go out and play the right way," he said.

Henderson began last year as MLB's No. 1 ranked prospect, following Adley Rutschman and preceding Jackson Holliday there giving the Orioles an unprecedented prospect three-peat.

“It’s pretty cool. Definitely a testament to the Orioles to be able to draft that way. Ultimately (it's about) great people. I feel like we all bond together and just allow each other to have success. Good relationships help lead to that and that is the vibe we have here," said Henderson.

The spring winning ways: The Orioles won against Minnesota 8-3 in Fort Myers on Sunday to end spring with a record of 23-6-2. That is the most wins by an MLB club in spring training since 2017.

The O's scored 183 runs (5.90 per game) which was second among 30 MLB clubs in spring and they were second with 47 homers. They ranked fourth in slugging at .457 and sixth in team OPS at .798.

The team's spring ERA ranked third in the majors at 3.85 and they were ninth in WHIP at 1.34.

Next stop, Opening Day. 




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