If you’re inclined to read a little or a lot into a player’s position change, Gunnar Henderson starting at second base last night at Triple-A Norfolk is a real page turner.
Henderson made his first career starts at first base in the past two games and moved to second last night, where his only experience was one game with high Single-A Aberdeen in 2021. He played five innings but didn’t start.
What’s going on with Henderson?
The same thing that put him at first base.
The Orioles want Henderson to get comfortable on the right side of the infield and increase their options if his contract is selected, which seems like a lock. They can use his left-handed bat in multiple ways, and the roster gains more flexibility.
Rosters increase from 26 to 28 players next month, but it might not take that long for Henderson to debut.
Jorge Mateo seems locked in as the starting shortstop. Henderson could play third base on occasion, with Ramón Urías shifting to second, where he started yesterday in a 4-3 loss to the Red Sox.
Henderson doubled last night, hit his 11th home run with Norfolk and delivered a walk-off single in the 10th inning - his fifth RBI of the game - to raise his average to .291 with a .919 OPS. Baseball’s No. 1 prospect (according to Baseball America) is poised to join catcher Adley Rutschman and outfielder Kyle Stowers in the majors – the club’s top three picks in the 2019 draft, the first under executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.
We could look back on it in the near future as the defining moment in the franchise’s turnaround. The same way that Steelers fans – sorry - view 1974 with four future Hall of Famers chosen in receiver Lynn Swann, linebacker Jack Lambert, receiver John Stallworth and center Mike Webster, plus safety Donnie Shell, who signed as an undrafted free agent and also made it to Canton.
The Orioles’ 2019 class also includes shortstop Joey Ortiz, selected in the fourth round.
The bat is catching up with Ortiz’s glove at Double-A Bowie, where he’s collected 24 doubles, four triples, 15 home runs and 69 RBIs in 104 games. He singled twice last night and is batting .268 with a .793 OPS.
The Orioles promoted Adam Hall, their 2017 second-round pick, to Triple-A yesterday and he scored the winning run in the 10th. Hall, 23, hit .282/.376/.368 in 44 games with Bowie, where the logjam at shortstop pushed him to the outfield.
* John Means has rejoined the Orioles this weekend, allowing him to participate in today's festivities at the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa.
Means hopped on a flight to Baltimore Friday, which also lets the medical staff check on his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
“Everything’s perfect,” he said. “A lot of what I’m just doing right now is waiting on stuff. PT is just still taking care of the shoulder mostly and building strength, and that’s really about it.”
Means said he’s probably still a couple months away from beginning a throwing program. He estimated that he’d head down to Sarasota after Jan. 1.
“That’s when it really starts to build up,” he said.
Means is keeping track of his teammates from his home in Texas. The improbable run for a wild card berth. The increased optimism for 2023.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “It’s definitely my motivation to get back and get stronger and come back and just try to not screw anything up. Keep the vibe alive and do well. It’s been really cool to see, and I try to come back as much as I can just to feel a part of it.”
The young starters are growing before his eyes. Whether he’s with the team or watching on television.
“All the little things, it seems like they’re taking care of,” he said. “They’re not getting too up, too down. They’re staying very logical, not too emotional, which is hard to do as a young starter.”
Means said he hasn’t made any plans after the current homestand. He doesn’t know when he’ll return or for how long.
“Obviously, we are in it,” he said, “and I’m going to try to be back as much as I can.”
The national exposure is building. The Orioles are on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” after a lengthy absence.
Welcome back to the spotlight.
“It’s really cool,” Means said. “Before the season, I’m sure when people saw who was playing, they were like, ‘Oh, OK, it’s just Boston and the Orioles.” But now it’s like, this is a tough game. Like the game (Friday) night, that was fireworks. It’s exciting. And I hope people tune in to see this team play, because it’s really special.
“Every time I come back, it seems like something new and amazing happens with them, so it’s going to be really fun and cool.”
What will fans notice about the Orioles in three years?
“I think they’ll see what’s great about baseball,” he said. “I think they’ll see a team of guys who love each other and have fun playing the game and bring enjoyment to it.”
Means can’t recite the upcoming schedule. He’s too busy at home being a husband and father, and going through his rehab, but he circled today’s date on his calendar.
“A lot of the reason I came for this homestand, too, was being able to experience that,” he said.
* Orioles Hall of Famer Boog Powell, who returned to Camden Yards yesterday on his bobblehead day, paid the Orioles a high compliment by comparing them to the 1966 team that swept the Dodgers in the World Series.
He said it in the dugout during a media scrum, and again in the MASN booth during the second inning.
“We knew we were going to kick your (butt),” he said in the dugout. “That’s exactly what these guys are like. That’s what I see in their actions and reactions on the field. They’re very exciting, and they’re having fun, too. That’s the bottom line right there. They’re having fun.”
Powell, the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1970, is back to enjoying the games on television. They were a hard watch since last making the playoffs in 2016.
“All of a sudden, everything kind of came together,” he said. “The whole thing was like, ‘Wow, they’re doing the right thing. They know what they’re doing.’ They’re doing the right thing all of a sudden, and I love it.
“I’m in love with this team. I really am.”