Elias on Henderson being "flagship aspect" of player development's work with hitters

The patience that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias keeps preaching through the rebuild process, from number of wins at the major league level on down to the development of prospects, paused yesterday at Gunnar Henderson.

Henderson doubled yesterday at Double-A Bowie, walked twice, scored two runs and raised his average to .291 with a .988 OPS.

His age also is going to increase. He turns 21 next month.

Just a teenager when the Orioles selected him in the second round of the 2019 draft out of John T. Morgan Academy in Selma, Ala. They grow up so fast.

But there’s only one acceptable pace for the Orioles in player development.

Henderson is slashing .333/.467/.632 this month, just letting his instincts and relaxed mind elevate his performance, and along with the season average and OPS are five doubles, a triple, seven home runs and 26 RBIs. He homered twice on Tuesday and again the following night.

He’s also drawn 35 walks against 27 strikeouts.

Those last two numbers also warrant a pause.

At three levels last summer, Henderson struck out 143 times in 463 plate appearances and walked 56. He finished his season with five games with the Baysox and struck out 10 times in 17 trips.

“I think in particular the walk-to-strikeout ratio with the power that he’s showing is very intriguing,” Elias said yesterday during his 25-minute media scrum in the dugout.

“We took him at 17 years old out of a small part of Alabama, played a lot of basketball in high school, was going to be sort of a player development project when we got him, and has been to me like a flagship aspect of what our player development group is doing on the hitting side. He’s done a lot of work to improve his swing mechanics since he's been here and he’s rapidly physically and mentally maturing, which, now he’s 20 years old, he’s kind of turning into an adult. So it’s awesome seeing the start he’s having in Double-A.”

Here's where Elias taps the brakes.

“It is just Double-A,” he said, “but I think the control of the strike zone that he’s showing is very exciting and very, very hopeful that he … he probably won’t finish the year in Double-A, but he’s got to stay healthy and all that good stuff.”

As Henderson is reintroduced to the Eastern League, making a better second impression, veteran pitcher Matt Harvey is serving his 60-game suspension without pay for “participating in the distribution of a prohibited drug of abuse” and working out at the spring training complex.

Harvey can pitch in extended spring training games and switch to simulated games after players leave for the Florida Complex League.

The Orioles re-signed Harvey to a minor league contract knowing that he’d likely be suspended for his testimony in the trial of former Angels employee Eric Kay pertaining to pitcher Tyler Skaggs’ overdose death in 2019. Harvey was granted immunity in exchange for confirming that he gave Skaggs oxycodone, and detailing his past drug use, but he knew that his career would be impacted, and perhaps ruined.

“The stuff that happened was several years ago,” Elias said. “Everybody knows his history with the Mets and he’s been through a lot. I know when he was with the Orioles organization, he was first class with us on and off the field, and given that and what we did know, we were comfortable bringing him back. I think it’s a great opportunity for him in a place that he’s comfortable, that’s been supportive toward him, where he knows some people, and I hope he makes the most of it.

“I’m sure once he gets through this and is back out there pitching in the minor leagues, he’ll be ready to face the public and discuss what’s going on in his life the last several years. But until he shows us otherwise, we’re supportive of him, and he’s a part of our organization and we hope to see him have some success in our upper minors once he gets through this.”

Elias said it’s possible that Harvey could join the Orioles after the All-Star break, “if not sooner,” depending on the club’s pitching needs and how he’s throwing.

“He’s serving his suspension that we all saw,” Elias said. “I think he’ll be able to continue staying in shape at our facility. We’re going to continue to support him and train him like he’s one of our athletes during this suspension, and once that takes place, we’ll be able to send him out to the minor leagues. He’s a minor league signing, he’s on a Triple-A contract, and I think once he gets out to the minor leagues it’s going to be his performance and stuff that dictates what his plans are. But we’re always looking for pitching in the upper minors.

“I think that as the (John) Means injury showed and some of the injury challenges were facing this year, you can never have too much length pitching depth at Triple-A, and we felt he was helpful for us last year and did a really good job helping us navigate a very challenging season on the pitching side. I hope once he gets through all this and pitches well enough in the minor leagues that he may be an option, but we’re just going to have to take it as it comes."

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