For the Orioles Gunnar Henderson, seemingly on his way to the American League Rookie of the Year Award, a season that ended well did not start that way.
In mid-May, when he was batting .170 with a .651 OPS, some around Birdland wondered if a trip back to the minors was needed. But team management never flinched, they remained confident in the then 21-year-old talent, and that confidence was rewarded.
Henderson ended the year batting .255/.325/.489/.814 with 29 doubles, nine triples, 28 homers, 100 runs and 82 RBIs. He set an O’s rookie record with 66 extra-base hits and his OPS+ was 125. After that slow start into mid-May, his OPS was .849 his last 117 games.
On his way to winning the Most Valuable Oriole award, he led MLB rookies with 6.3 Wins Above Replacement per baseball-reference.com and also led them in home runs and extra-base hits.
Among all AL position players, just Marcus Semien (7.4) and Corey Seager (6.9) of Texas produced more bWAR although he ranked 12th in the league in fWAR.
Henderson is the first rookie in team history with 20+ doubles, 5+ triples, 20+ homers, and 10+ stolen bases; he is the 20th rookie in MLB history with such a stat line. When he scored his 100th run on Saturday night, he became the first Orioles rookie ever with 25 homers and 100 runs and the first rookie in the AL to do that since Mike Trout in 2012 (30 HRs, 129 runs).
It will probably surprise no one in Birdland however, that all the accolades and honors are not on his mind right now with the playoffs now underway.
“I haven’t (thought about those) no sir. I feel like I just go out there and play and the stuff that comes along with it comes along with it. At the end of the season, I might have a chance to look at it. But the season is not finished so I have to keep going out there and keep playing hard,” he said.
How does Henderson keep his focus amid the honors and ROY talk?
“Feel like it’s just the internal drive that I have,” he said. “It’s a nice step in the right direction but I want to be the best player I possibly can be and wherever that puts me later in my career or at the end of it is hopefully in a really good position.”
The Orioles are waiting to find out whether they host Tampa Bay or Texas starting Saturday in the American League Division Series. The club went 8-5 versus the Rays this year, 3-3 against the Rangers and 28-16 (.636) against the five other teams in the AL playoff field.
“I feel like throughout the year we have played really well against the playoff teams,” Henderson said. “To be the one seed and have the off days will help us and our bullpen get some rest. We made it through that gauntlet of playing 17 straight days late in the year and that was a testament to our team.”
Henderson is a shining star and top product of the Orioles player development operation which helped him grow as a player. He said on the O's farm and in grooming young players, the organization does a great job in acquiring top talent and then polishing it up. But it’s more than that. he said.
“It’s also about having good people. Never have run into anyone with a cocky attitude or that is hard to be around,” he said. “It’s all just good people, and that makes for a good clubhouse. That allows everyone to go out there and play their best game. You can really enjoy playing the game and spending time with each other. That allows for great relationships and for us to play our best game.”
And maybe to have more seasons like this one over the next several years.
“Yes, it’s set up for that. We’ve got a really strong foundation right now,” he said.