Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg will play together in the same infield tonight as Orioles for the first time, with Henderson starting at third base and Westburg at second. But it won’t be nearly the first time they have shared an infield as pro players.
Not even close.
It has happened and often on the Baltimore farm. So, for Henderson to experience Westburg’s big league debut last night and see his good friend go through that was also special for the soon-to-be-22-year-old O’s infielder.
Henderson did not play in the O’s 10-3 win over Cincinnati, but had a pretty good view of Westburg’s night as he went 1-for-4 and got his first major league hit, run and RBI, all in the same game.
“That was really cool. And a pretty eventful night in a sense, yeah his debut, but also the rain delay and wait through all that. Sure, that was eventful in itself. But he went out there and just did what he always does and showed you that it’s more than enough. Let him keep doing that and he’ll continue to flourish,” Henderson said this afternoon.
In the 2021 minor league season, both players started the year at Single-A Delmarva, both later moved to High-A Aberdeen, with Westburg beating Henderson there by about three weeks. Same for Double-A Bowie, with Westburg moving there on Aug. 17 that year and Henderson on Sept. 14.
Then in 2022 they both started out at Double-A. They were promoted together to Triple-A Norfolk on June 6.
And they are together again tonight on the dirt at Camden Yards.
"Going through each and every stage,” Henderson said of watching Westburg’s career advance in a similar manner to his own through Triple-A. "He just embraces the challenge and goes out there and works hard every day. He does what makes him the player he is."
Westburg took a couple of close pitches in drawing a walk in his first time up last night. That walk started a second-inning rally that led to Austin Hays’ two-run single with the bases loaded.
Westburg had solid walk rates on the farm. He walked 12.4 percent in 2022 at Double-A with a walk rate of 10.7 with Norfolk last year and 9.6 this year. The major league average is 8.3.
“I felt like, from playing beside him, he’s had good plate discipline throughout his whole time in the minors. Up here the umpires are better and they know the strike zone a little bit better, so being able to take close pitches will benefit him,” said Henderson, who has a 12.8 walk rate of his own this year.
Henderson experienced what Westburg is now going through when he joined the Orioles late last year. They walk into a welcoming clubhouse, one filled with young players they already know so well from time on the farm.
“Definitely helps," Henderson said. "Me coming up last year, there were a bunch of guys on the team that I knew. Some I was really close with, and that made my transition easier. And having a few young guys here was beneficial. Just a real comfort level and exact same thing for him. He was around the team a lot in spring training. It’s an easy transition."
The coverage of prospects is so much more expansive now than several years ago that there is little unknown about these players when they debut. I asked Henderson if fans around Birdland will come to learn anything about Westburg they may not know already.
“Feel like with him, the consistent factor is just always there," he said. "Really don’t know how to explain it, but just doing that and getting the major league reps is going to continue to improve his game. With each player the reps are big as you are playing against the best players in the world.”