No. 1 on Baseball America's prospect list now, does Gunnar Henderson stay there?

The Orioles' No. 1-ranked farm system currently features six players ranked in the Baseball America top 100 prospects list. That is a strong number. And if the O’s still have those six – and they likely should – when the publication releases a new top 100 list in January heading into 2023, that would be an Orioles first.

Since 1990, when Baseball America began releasing a top 100 list each January, the O’s have had as many as five players ranked, but never six.

Currently, they have the No. 1-rated player in Gunnar Henderson, in addition to Grayson Rodriguez (No. 4), Jackson Holliday (No. 38), DL Hall (No. 55), Colton Cowser (No. 88) and Jordan Westburg (No. 89).

Among the 33 lists Baseball America has released, only three times have the O’s had five rated, and it has happened each of the last two years and also in 2008.

In 2008, it was Matt Wieters (12), Chris Tillman (67), Radhames Liz (69), Troy Patton (78) and Nolan Reimold (91).

In 2021, it was Adley Rutschman (2), Rodriguez (22), Hall (59), Heston Kjerstad (62) and Ryan Mountcastle (63).

In 2022, it was Rutschman (1), Rodriguez (6), Hall (52), Henderson (57) and Cowser (98).

Will Henderson, who made his big league debut last season but is still currently prospect-eligible, stay ranked No. 1 next month? Baseball America editor-in-chief JJ Cooper said it's quite possible.  

“It gives him a good chance,” said Cooper. “If you are currently No. 1, no doubt you will be strongly considered to be No. 1 (on the new and updated list in January). Someone could ask, ‘What would be a scenario be where he is not No.1?’ The only answer I have to that is that we try to gather even more information than we had when we last did (a midseason prospects list) in August. So, we want to sift through all that information. Was there someone else we thought was very good coming into the offseason but now we’ve gotten more feedback and they may be considered a little better than we thought in August?

“If you rewind the clock to last year at this time, we pretty comfortably knew that it was going to be Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt Jr. or Julio Rodriguez as our No. 1 prospect for 2022. But what we didn’t know until literally the week we finalized it was which one of those would be at the top.

"We had some really fun and excruciating debates and we talked to a large number of people inside of baseball. And you could sit here right now and still have a good debate over those three. So, we will have another fun debate about who should be No. 1 for 2023, and sometimes these things are not easy.”

On another topic, I asked Cooper about the Orioles possibly making trades using some of their prospects. What is important for a team when dealing from its top 30 list?

“This is where a team can really do a good job in that, a team knowing their own prospects can do a good job of figuring out who is maybe undervalued," he said. "You don’t trade those guys. Who is, maybe in industry perception, maybe a little higher than you believe internally. OK, those are probably the players to trade. Because prospect value is often fleeting.

"There are players - and they’re not going to trade Gunnar Henderson, I would think, under any circumstances - but you go to that next and to that third and fourth tier of prospects. And there are players coming off of great years that may not fit in the Orioles' long-term plans. In some cases, trading a player coming off a great season at peak value may be the difference between getting a lot of value for that player or maybe he comes out next season and struggles and you realize that player doesn’t have nearly the trade value now that he did, and they still don’t fit in the plans.

“It’s a moving target because we are dealing with people and we are dealing with uncertainty. But it does make a whole lot of sense as the Orioles should be considered a playoff contender in 2023. And they certainly want next year to be the breakthrough where they do make the playoffs."

As it stands now, and in large measure through the club's player development efforts, their young talent makes them a club with a great chance at another winning record. 

But will that be good enough?

“They had a lot of players play really well, and that’s a credit to their development. But I’m not sure yet they have the lineup or rotation of a playoff team," Cooper said. "But some of that will also go back to their development. They are going to have a full season of Adley (Rutschman) and a full season of Gunnar Henderson. And guys like Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall should help. So that will be a big internal boost without having to do anything other than let prospects mature and settle into the big leagues.

“Orioles fans might wonder why they have not signed any big-name free agents yet. But I do think they will sign some players, and it would make sense that they are also looking to try and be creative with trades as well. At the end of the day, they have more prospects right now that could be attractive to other teams, especially in the infield, than they have spots to play them." 

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