Like all professional baseball players right now, O’s prospect Gunnar Henderson is not playing in any games or getting any needed at-bats. This was slated to be his first full pro season after the Orioles drafted him last June.
The O’s selected Henderson with the first pick of the second round, No. 42 overall, out of Morgan Academy in Selma, Ala. He was a two-sport star there and was the Player of the Year in the Alabama high school ranks in both basketball and baseball.
Henderson said baseball was always his first love and he gave up a scholarship to play at Auburn to sign an overslot $2.3 million bonus with the Orioles.
I recorded a video interview with Henderson earlier this week, which you can watch in full at the end of this blog entry.
I asked Henderson about the final few weeks before draft day. How crazy of a time was it for him?
“Actually, my high school coach took a lot of weight off my shoulders,” he said. “He just told everyone to call him and then he would relay some information to me. He took a lot of weight off my shoulders and I couldn’t thank him enough.
“Draft night, that pulled its weight. It was a crazy night. From all the scouts saying where I should go and end up and then dropping to the second round. It was a blessing in disguise because I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.”
Henderson heard he would be a first-round pick but he didn’t quite make that. Before the draft he was rated as the No. 27 draft prospect by MLBPipeline.com and No. 30 via Baseball America.
After hitting .559 with 11 homers and 75 RBIs in 32 games as a high school senior, Henderson got off to a 2-for-16 start in his first four games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
“That was definitely a big switch,” he said. “The past summer (of 2018) definitely helped me out, going on all the showcases. Just being able to face pitchers that went high in the draft. Then just getting into the rhythm of facing that and getting my timing down. In high school you run into one or maybe two good arms on a team. You have to bear down on every at-bat (in the pros). They don’t mess up very often, and when they do you have to capitalize.”
Henderson got better as his first season went on and he hit .292 his final 19 games. In 29 GCL games overall, he batted .259/.331/.370 with five doubles, two triples, a homer and 11 RBIs.
He started at shortstop for a team that went 38-15, won its division and had the best record in the GCL. A hurricane cancelled the playoffs, though, and ended the team’s bid for a league championship.
“We had some great experience on there, and our pitching staff was very well rounded and always put us in a position to win. We’d always put some runs together to give the pitchers a cushion. Everyone was pretty defensively sound and we had real good chemistry,” Henderson said of the GCL South Division champs.
Hope you have some time to watch my interview. Henderson talked about trying to get his work in during the game’s shutdown. Also about his development as a player and what will be important for him over the next few seasons.