BOSTON – Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has described it as “about as meteoric of a season as you’ll see.” The rise of now 21-year-old Gunnar Henderson from Baseball America’s No. 57 overall prospect to No. 1 as the summer months crept toward fall. From minor league stud to major league contributor in a wild card chase.
Henderson keeps leaving an impression on every field and at every level, and Baseball America rewarded him today with his selection as its Minor League Player of the Year.
The youngest position player to make his Orioles debut since Manny Machado in 2012 and the youngest to debut in the majors this season, Henderson hit a combined .297/.416/.531 with 24 doubles, seven triples, 19 home runs and 76 RBIs in 112 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk – drawing 41 walks and striking out 38 times with the Baysox.
“It’s just a great honor and I can’t thank God enough for blessing me with the ability to be in this situation and to bless me with these awards that come with this stuff,” Henderson said this afternoon.
“Looking forward to keeping it going after this.”
The Orioles promoted Henderson on Aug. 31 in Cleveland, and he enters tonight batting .269/.346/.484 with six doubles, a triple, four home runs and 17 RBIs in 104 plate appearances.
Henderson’s last homer was a 428-foot shot to center field Monday night at Fenway Park, with an exit velocity of 111.1 mph that’s the highest of his brief career. He was hitless in 16 at-bats heading into the game before drawing three walks and demolishing a fastball.
“It didn’t really feel like a struggle that much because I hit some balls hard,” he said. “Just got to keep going and they’ll eventually fall your way, and go into each and every day with the right mindset and do the work, and it will eventually go your way.”
Henderson said the biggest jump in his professional career came at the start of the 2022 season with Bowie, “and rolling off that.”
He stormed into the majors and quickly became a fixture in the lineup, impressing at the plate and with his defense on the left side of the infield.
“Seems like it’s flown by, but at the same time, it seems like forever ago,” he said. “It seems like the debut was a whole year ago, but it’s been really fun being able to spend time here and be with all these guys and be in the playoff push. Looking forward to hopefully continuing it and making a playoff push here pretty soon.”
Henderson joins catcher Matt Wieters in 2008 as the only Orioles to win the Baseball America award.
“From what I’ve seen up here, this guy’s got a chance to be extremely special, how he can play defense and the way he can handle the bat with power, his running ability,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “We’re really excited about him and his future, so congratulations to him for having a great year in Double-A and Triple-A and dominating those levels, and coming up here and really helping us out. It’s been really fun to watch him since he’s been here.”
Henderson is out of the lineup tonight against Red Sox left-hander Rich Hill. Hyde also sat Cedric Mullins and Adley Rutschman.
“We’ve got 20 games in a row, we’re pretty beat up,” Hyde said. “We just played defense last night for 2 ½ hours, we had two four-hour games. Ced needed a break today. No doubt about it. Rutsch has caught two marathon games. And just giving Gunnar a day. I think you’ll see them in there the rest of the way.
Ramón Urías needed help getting down the dugout steps last night after sliding into third base and spraining his right knee. He went on the 10-day injured list and is done for the rest of the season.
“You saw last night, when he came off the field it obviously looked pretty serious,” Hyde said. “Couldn’t put a whole lot of weight on it. Unfortunate accident. He’s going to be fine, but unfortunately we only have so much time left here in the season. Big blow for us last night.”
Urías appeared in 118 games and batted .248/.305/.414 with 17 doubles and 16 home runs.
Hyde said he was surprised by Urías’ pull power.
“Ramón in batting practice has got a lot of power to right-center and right field, and that’s what we’ve seen here for the last couple years,” Hyde said. “He can backside a ball as well as anybody. But him being able for me this year, making the next step of being able to pull the ball with a little more authority, using the left-center field gap like he did last night, that’s been a lot of fun to watch him developing and get better up here.
“Besides that, his third base defense is some of the best, if not the best, in the game this year. He puts a ton of work in his defense, and it was really the first time he’s played one spot. Played a great defensive third base for us.”
Tyler Nevin was recalled and is starting at third tonight. He’s had 179 plate appearances with the Orioles this season and batted .196/.296/.261 with four doubles and two home runs.
“It’s a good feeling to play in meaningful games in September, something we all talk about in spring training and throughout the year,” he said. “I’m ready to contribute.”
Nevin hasn’t appeared in a game with the Orioles since Aug. 21. He was optioned 10 days later to make room for Henderson.
“It wasn’t hard,” he said. “I understood the situation. I was really happy for Gunnar, first and foremost. I knew I would get to work on some stuff in Triple-A. Nobody wants to hear you’re going to Triple-A, but at the same time I knew that there were going to be some benefits that came to it. Get to work on some stuff, get some consistent playing time. You’ve got to take what you’re given.”
Nevin concentrated on using the whole field again.
“I feel like that’s a big strength of mine. Kind of got away from that,” he said.
“Just getting to put it into every day reps, just iron some things out like that.”
The bullpen has a couple of fresh arms in Keegan Akin and Beau Sulser. The Orioles optioned Joey Krehbiel and put him on the taxi squad with Jake Reed, who was optioned after last night’s game.
Krehbiel was in the bullpen for the entire season and posted a 3.90 ERA and 1.231 WHIP in 56 appearances. He was charged with two runs and two hits in two-thirds of an inning last night and also walked two batters and let three inherited runners score.
Krehbiel has allowed nine runs and 10 hits in his last six appearances over 5 2/3 innings.
Hyde said it was a difficult conversation with Krehbiel based on the timing of the move.
“Similar to Akin,” he said. “Just the way that our pitching has been the last few days. Tough decisions to make, guys who have been with us all year long, guys that have really good moments for us, big parts of our bullpen. We’re running short. Akin’s able to come back and help us out here. Joey might be, too. We’ll see what happens. But you never want to option guys that have helped you out throughout the year.”
The Orioles also put left-hander Bruce Zimmermann and right-hander Yennier Cano on the taxi squad, with two more games to play in Boston and three in the Bronx.
Zimmermann doesn’t know whether he’ll be activated, but at least he’s back with the team. The Ellicott City native has made 15 appearances, including 13 starts, and posted a 5.99 ERA and 1.480 WHIP in 73 2/3 innings. He started the first home game of the season.
The stays with the Orioles have been brief. One relief inning on July 9. Nothing again until his recall between games of a Sept. 5 doubleheader against the Blue Jays, when he replaced Akin and allowed five runs and eight hits in six innings.
“It’s just waiting for that opportunity to arise again when I was first optioned (June 16),” he said. “Since then, the starting rotation has done their job more than could have been asked. They’ve been pitching so well, so it’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good for the organization, bad for me. But just waiting for the opportunity to come up and fill whatever need is needed, and the past couple times it’s been in the ‘pen.
“It’s been a long past two games here, so if the need arises again, obviously I’m here and ready to step into that role, whatever it may be.”
The Orioles haven't listed their starters for the weekend series in New York. The Yankees are starting Domingo Germán, Nestor Cortes and Luis Severino.