Gunnar Henderson preparing to make some starts at first base

While the Orioles keep working out Terrin Vavra at first base before games, the drills beginning Sunday at Tropicana Field, they’ve got shortstop Gunnar Henderson doing the same with Triple-A Norfolk. Taking ground balls, making throws from a new angle.

Henderson is expected to receive some starts at first base this week, perhaps today against the Durham Bulls at Harbor Park.

To get Henderson comfortable at the position would assist the Orioles with roster flexibility if his contract is selected. They’re searching for left-handed options, particularly as injury insurance.

Henderson has started at shortstop and third base as a professional and played five innings at second base last summer with Single-A Aberdeen.  First base is new to him.

This doesn’t signal that Henderson definitely is coming up in 2022. It’s a daily conversation within the organization, and the strikeouts – 62 compared to 32 walks in 53 games with Norfolk before last night – offer a reason to wait.

Henderson, rated by Baseball America as the No. 1 prospect, and outfielder Kyle Stowers are TBD.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said during Sunday’s interview on MLB Network Radio that promoting Henderson is “definitely on the table,” and he’s “on the radar screen.”

Asked about Henderson again during an interview this week with’s Brendan Mortensen in Bowie, Elias replied, “Obviously, he’s had one of the best years of anyone in the minors, which is why he shot up the prospect list. He was very, very dominant here in Bowie. It was clear it wasn’t enough of a challenge for him with the more walks than strikeouts, so even with his age, being as young as it is – I think he was 20 at the time of the promotion - we slid him up to Triple-A.

“It’s proven to be a little bit more of a challenge. You see the strikeout rate has crept up. He’s still having some fits with left-handed pitching. But overall, his numbers in Triple-A are very, very encouraging. He’s doing great. He’s by far the youngest player in the whole league, and we’re going to do what’s right for him, first and foremost. But I think he’s also putting himself in a position to be in a lot of conversations about maybe helping this team down the stretch. So, we’ll just see what happens”

* Now it really makes sense why DL Hall will return to the Orioles as a reliever.

Austin Voth is blocking him.

Well, not really, but Voth should stay in the rotation. He’s one of Elias’ best waiver claims, with an improved curveball, better preparation and more data available to him since his arrival.

The right-hander unveiled a new slider yesterday, with more horizontal movement. He has a definite clue on how to pitch and mix the repertoire.  

Voth tossed six scoreless innings and has registered a 2.81 ERA in 14 games with the Orioles. He had a 10.13 ERA in 19 relief appearances with the Nationals.

A keeper, whether he’s a starter in 2023 or a length guy in the bullpen who can jump into the rotation if a spot becomes available.

There could be a crowd with Hall, Grayson Rodriguez, Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Jordan Lyles if the Orioles pick up his option and don’t trade him, eventually John Means, perhaps a veteran signed as a free agent or obtained in a deal, since Elias vows to be busy over the winter. Bruce Zimmermann and Mike Baumann are hoping to return from Norfolk.

Other pitching prospects are with the Tides or moving up the ladder to get there.

Chayce McDermott, acquired from the Astros in the Trey Mancini trade, is the No. 14 prospect in the system per and No. 17 per Baseball America, and he just received a bump to Double-A. Left-hander Cade Povich, obtained from the Twins in the Jorge López trade, is No. 15 per and No. 29 per Baseball America, and he’s also in the Baysox rotation.­­  

Spenser Watkins, who starts today against the Cubs, has done a nice job since returning from the injured list, but he might be back on the free agent market after the season. That’s the price of improving the talent and depth in the organization.

This also could create an opportunity for Elias to move young pitching over the winter – we know the untouchables – in exchange for a track-record starter.

Elias told Mortensen that Rodriguez will “be back soon.” The door for his return from a lat strain remains open, whether in the majors or Triple-A. The Orioles don’t seem inclined to shut him down.

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