BOWIE – With all the data, technology and analytics available to players today, something simple that anyone could use that might help O’s prospect Gunnar Henderson take his offense to a higher level this year.
It comes through the magic of a foam baseball.
Yep, a foam ball is helping the top 100 prospect both flatten his swing to produce less swing and miss and to better get to balls at the top of the zone this year.
Showing that he has the game smarts to match his immense talent, Henderson, 20, with help from the O’s coaches, went to hitting the foam balls this spring in Florida to help make a difference when he faces the real baseball.
“Some stuff I said to them that I wanted to work on is flattening out (my swing) just a touch to eliminate some of the miss and foul balls in a sense that I know I should be hitting,” Henderson said Thursday at Prince George’s Stadium. “One big thing for me was hitting foam balls off the machine that had good ride to them. Felt that was a really good help. It over-exaggerates, but it helps. The second thing was just being a little more adjustable and not so stiff, letting my body do the work, so I kind of loosened up. Just relax everything, not trying to be a robot in a sense.
“I have natural loft in my swing, so just flatten out a touch. And having more contact (ability) at the top of the zone.”
And who knew what kind of ball would do the trick.
“Foam ball, like you would play Wiffle Ball in the day,” said Henderson, 20, adding that Braves slugger Matt Olson does something similar. “They put them in a mini machine and they basically float up in there. It over-exaggerates it and a lot of guys have enjoyed using this.”
Last season, he began the year with low Single-A Delmarva, moved on to high Single-A Aberdeen and ended the year playing five games and a few more in the playoffs for Double-A Bowie. He is with the Baysox to start the 2022 season.
The flatter swing could produce a lower launch angle, but Henderson is not too worried about the math of that right now.
“I didn’t really get into numbers, like I usually can feel with my swing,” he said. “Your best coach is yourself. So, I took that in and that is what I worked in the offseason. And those foam balls really helped. Lower in the zone, you just drop the bat head on it.”
Henderson batted .258/.350/.476/.826 last year between those three teams with 28 doubles, four triples, 17 homers, 68 runs and 74 RBIs. He was fifth among O’s farm everyday players in OPS an sixth in home runs.
He used the winter and spring to try and take his strong offense and make it even better.
“At the end of spring training, there were pitches at the top of the zone that I was hitting. Glad to see it paying off. Seeing those results in spring really has me excited for this year,” Henderson said.
Rodriguez’s strong debut: In his Triple-A debut last night for the Norfolk Tides, O’s top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez threw with the same effectiveness we saw from him in lower leagues last year.
Rodriguez allowed one hit in four scoreless innings as Norfolk routed Charlotte 12-1 to improve to 2-2. Rodriguez walked one and fanned seven, throwing 61 pitches, 40 for strikes. Each strikeout was a swinging strikeout.
The Tides' Rylan Bannon went 4-for-4 with three RBIs, Johnny Rizer added a two-run homer and Patrick Dorrian had a two-run double. Terrin Vavra went 2-for-5 and Robert Neustrom hit a solo shot.
Richmond beat Double-A Bowie 7-5 as Hudson Haskin had three doubles and Jordan Westburg went 2-for-5 with two runs and an RBI.
High Single-A Aberdeen scored eight runs over the last five innings to rally from four runs down and beat Jersey Shore 11-10. Aberdeen scored three in the ninth to give manager Roberto Mercado a win in his O's organization debut. TT Bowens had four hits, including two doubles and homer. Colton Cowser had a double and triple among his three hits, César Prieto went 3-for-6, and John Rhodes added three hits and three RBIs.
Darell Hernaiz and Mishael Deson had three hits each as low Single-A Delmarva beat Fredericksburg 9-6.
The O's four affiliates scored 37 runs last night. Norfolk is now 2-2, while the other three teams were playing their season opening games.
The O's and Rays: The Orioles play at Tampa Bay this afternoon after Friday's 2-1 loss on opening day. Baltimore is now 44-25 all-time in openers and 16-6 since 2001. The Orioles scored only on Anthony Santander's solo homer, went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and fanned 14 times.
The Orioles, in going 1-18 against Tampa Bay last year, lost five of those games by two runs or less and lost a close one to begin the 2022 season. Right-hander Jordan Lyles makes his Baltimore debut this afternoon.