CLEVELAND – Orioles manager Brandon Hyde watched Gunnar Henderson hit on the field hours before batting practice, an early session that confirmed everything he knew about the former second-round draft pick. The tools on display. Some of the reasons why he rates so highly among scouts and talent evaluators.
Why he’s the youngest Oriole to debut since Dylan Bundy in September 2012. And the youngest position player since Manny Machado that same year.
“It’s really impressive,” Hyde said. “It’s so physical, so strong, and it’s exciting to have another one of our top prospects here.”
Henderson is least likely to play first base with Ryan Mountcastle entrenched as the starter and Jesús Aguilar going from taxi squad to expanded roster on Thursday.
“We’re going to play him multiple spots in the infield,” Hyde said after writing Henderson’s name at third base on the lineup card. “It’s something he’s been preparing for down at Norfolk, getting a lot of reps. Recent reps at second base, shortstop, third base. He’ll be day-to-day with where we put him in the infield.
“I’m hoping he just enjoys this experience tonight. The debut is a night he’ll never forget, and we’re excited to have him.”
Hyde also mentioned how he has plenty of options at second base, suggesting that the left side of the infield is where Henderson is going to get most of his opportunities. Rougned Odor is playing second tonight, but Ramón Urías, tonight’s designated hitter, and rookie Terrin Vavra are other possibilities.
“But you never know what could happen in any sort of game,” Hyde said.
“I’ll be moving him around the infield as much as I possibly can.”
Hyde prefers to temper expectations with young players, a monumental task when it applies to players like Henderson and catcher Adley Rutschman.
“He’s going to face Cleveland tonight,” Hyde said. “He’s going to face (Triston) McKenzie tonight, he’s going to face (Shane) Bieber tomorrow, so it’s not easy. It’s not easy for a veteran player and it’s not easy for a young player. I just want, like when Adley came up, to take really good at-bats the best you possibly can, try to contribute, play well defensively, and hopefully we win.”
The Orioles have brought up two of baseball’s No. 1 prospects this year, with Rutschman in the running for American League Rookie of the Year. An embarrassment of riches for an organization that used to grade low among farm systems.
“It just shows you the depth,” Hyde said. “Those guys have done a great job of building this organization with the talent that we have down there. It’s fun to see these guys graduate to the big leagues, and what a great experience for them to be playing in their first year in these kinds of environments. The teams we’ve played down the stretch, what we’re playing for, all those things. I think it’s going to be great for them going forward to be able to experience that.”
Henderson celebrated his 21st birthday on June 29 and routinely has faced pitchers much older. It hasn’t fazed him.
“You just look at his Triple-A numbers and what he’s done there,” Hyde said. “The defensive ability, as well. Our reports are that he’s really matured and been a pro. But just love the hitability, the hit tool, as well as being able to play multiple spots in the infield. He’s got huge upside, one of the best prospects in baseball, the top prospect in baseball for a reason. Glad to see him here today.”
Aguilar and starter-turned-reliever DL Hall were in the clubhouse today as taxi squad members. Aguilar cast the larger shadow at a listed 277 pounds.
“Big power threat,” Hyde said. “A guy that’s going to drive in runs. Did a nice job at first base those years in Milwaukee. Just an added, talented major league player on our roster, and a guy that, if he’s not playing, I’ll be able to pinch-hit in a power spot, an RBI spot. It’s a guy that’s hit in the past and we’re happy to have him.”
The Orioles signed Aguilar to a minor league deal after the Marlins released him over the weekend. They contacted his agent a few days ago.
“I was happy about it because I know what the guys have been doing this year,” said Aguilar, an All-Star with the Brewers in 2018, when he had a career-high 25 doubles, 35 home runs and 108 RBIs.
“There’s a lot of unity here. It’s a young group and they know how to play the game. I’ll be happy to help them finish what they started.”
Hall made four relief appearances with Norfolk and is ready to contribute out of the bullpen. Hyde won’t avoid high-leverage situations with the young left-hander.
“It’s really going to depend on the games we play,” Hyde said. “As of late, it hasn’t been much of a choice. Last night wasn’t great, but besides that, the last couple weeks have been fairly high leverage. I don’t know what it’s going to look like out of the ‘pen, honestly. I want him to just be aggressive and go attack guys in the strike zone, and whether it’s their right-handed, left-handed, bottom of the order, top of the order, whatever part of the game it’s in, or whatever the leverage spot is, I just want him to throw his best stuff through the zone, because it’s special.
“We’re excited to watch him in September, as well.”
Hall tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings last night and said he’ll be available by Friday. He’s made the adjustment from starting, speeding through the process to arrive back in the majors.
“My first two in Norfolk, I could definitely tell that it was a little different, but the last two or three have been really good, and just trying to help in any way I can,” he said. “It’s been nice. They slowly worked me into it, so it was good.
“I think there’s a few (differences), but of course you don’t have to worry about stretching out your pitches and things like that among five to seven innings. You can just go out there and get after it for an inning or two, so that’s huge. Warming up is a little bit different. You don’t have the long routine that you would before the game, but just finding a way to get that stuff in.”
The Orioles laid out their plan before calling up Hall to start Aug. 13 at Tropicana Field. Get his feet wet in the majors, go back down and learn how to adapt to a reliever’s schedule.
“It was good,” he said. “I’m looking to help in any way I can. It’s a way that’s going to keep my innings down this year after an (elbow) injury last year, so I’m just happy to be healthy, and hopefully can finish a full season just to prove I can do that to myself and to others. That’s huge for me.”
The clubhouse has undergone its latest transformation with more prospects walking through the door.
“It’s unreal,” Hall said. “I was talking to the guys about it earlier, just seeing some of the younger faces in there that I’ve been around for a while now, it’s awesome to see, and it’s exciting.”
The teal glove is back, as well, after Henderson used a brown model against the Rays.
“That’s me,” he said. “I like the loud colors and things like that, and that’s always been me, so just want to get back to myself.”
Reliever Travis Lakins Sr. cleared outright waivers and was assigned to Norfolk. He’s been on the 60-day injured list with elbow inflammation, so the 40-man roster isn’t impacted by the move.
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