For the Orioles, two days and two press conferences to announce top-draft-pick signings. Yesterday the Orioles introduced No. 1 pick catcher Adley Rutschman, and today it was prep shortstop Gunnar Henderson, taken No. 42 overall.
Henderson was named the Alabama Sports Writers Association Mr. Baseball for 2019, as well as Alabama Gatorade State Player of the Year, after hitting .559/.641/1.225 (57-for-102) with 17 doubles, nine triples, 11 home runs, 69 runs, 75 RBIs and 28 stolen bases in 32 games for John T. Morgan Academy in Selma, Ala.
MLBPipeline.com reported that Henderson signed for an overslot bonus of $2.3 million. The O’s have signed 31 of their 41 draft picks.
Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Henderson will begin his pro career in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
“This is another big day and a big week for the future of this franchise,” Elias said at the press conference. “Very thrilled to have selected and signed Gunnar with the 42nd pick. We were very lucky to get him at that spot. This is a very talented young shortstop. Still 17 years old. His birthday is this weekend, actually.
“Someone we’ve been following since the showcase circuit opened up last summer. Our scouting department spent a lot of time focusing on him. Dave Jennings, our signing scout, spent a lot of time studying him and providing the information we needed to make this evaluation. This is the type of talent we want to be bringing into an organization that is in the process of adding the best young players that we can.”
“Just like to thank my family and everyone else that helped me to reach this point,” Henderson said in his opening comment. “This is just a start. Can’t wait to get started down in Florida, and hope to make it up here to Camden Yards in a few years.”
Henderson had committed to Auburn, where his brother Jackson plays now, but is bypassing that to go right into pro ball.
“As soon as draft night ended I just started praying for a clear path,” he said. “My older brother told me he was going to be proud of me no matter which way it went. That just made it a little bit easier. I felt like this was the right decision.”
Henderson was rated as the No. 27 draft prospect by MLBPipeline.com and No. 30 by Baseball America. So he may have fallen down the board a bit on draft night.
“Yes sir, there is motivation (in that),” he said. “But I’ve had a self-driven work ethic my entire life. So I was going to work hard as I can whichever way I went. Luckily, I fell to an organization, and it’s kind of a coincidence because my younger brother grew up an Orioles fan, and to get drafted by them is weird, but a blessing.”
Elias was asked if the club got a first-round talent at the start of round two?
“We stack up the board in order of talent, and he was the best talent left on the board, I think by a good bit,” he said. “It was just a matter of whether we could sign him, and we figured out a way to make it work. This will be great for both parties. He’s going to have a chance to develop in a pro environment and accelerate his path to the major leagues. We’re an organization in a lot of need of talented, young infielders.”
Here’s Elias on the potential development path for Henderson: “It varies player to player, but certainly this first summer is just about getting used to pro ball. Seeing our complex, meeting other players in the organization and getting some pro at-bats. I imagine he’ll spend most, if not all this summer with the GCL. I think that’s a norm for a high school kid, especially one as young as he is.
“Then next year we take it from there. There are all kinds of paths that kids take, and it just depends how they do. And the growth curve. I think this summer will be very important for him, just getting acclimated to the pro game. He had a very full (2018) summer. He did all the top events and he was hitting with wood all summer. That gives him a nice footing.”
The Orioles’ two highest remaining unsigned picks are third-rounder Zach Watson, an outfielder from LSU, and 11th-rounder Andrew Daschbach from Stanford. Will the O’s get them?
“I think we’re in good shape,” Elias said. “Until the entire process is complete, you never know, but I feel very optimistic about those players.”