In a recent story published by Baseball America, the publication noted 13 players (subscription may be required) that could have breakout seasons on the farm in 2021. Before even reading the text, readers could see the picture at the top of that story. It is of Orioles shortstop prospect Gunnar Henderson.
For this story in December, I noted that Henderson could be the club’s next top 100 prospect. The club recently put five players on the newly released Baseball America top 100. It is just the second time the O’s have had five on the initial release of this list from each year, and it dates back to 1990.
Baseball America rates catcher Adley Rutschman at No. 2, with pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall at Nos. 22 and 59, respectively. Outfielder Heston Kjerstad is at No. 62. Ryan Mountcastle, who made his debut last season and is the Orioles’ presumptive starting left fielder this year, is one slot behind Kjerstad at No. 63.
Henderson, 19, could be on deck. He was the No. 42 overall pick in the 2019 First-Year Player Draft. Rutschman will always be the first draft pick by Mike Elias after he took over as the club’s executive vice president and general manager. And Henderson will always be second.
He was the youngest player at the O’s alternate Bowie camp last summer and impressed the coaching staff. He was holding his own against much more experienced players by the end of that camp.
When he last played in games, it was after the 2019 draft for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Orioles. He had a solid summer for a team that went 38-15 and posted the best record in the GCL. A hurricane canceled the playoffs. But in 29 GCL regular season games, he batted .259/.331/.370 with five doubles, two triples, a homer and 11 RBIs.
Henderson got better as the season went on, posting an OPS of .758 in August after recording one of .612 in July. He batted .273/.333/.424 in August and hit .292 over his last 19 games.
After the 2020 major league season was over for the Orioles, manager Brandon Hyde saw Henderson play in the club’s fall instructional league.
“That was fun to watch him,” Hyde said recently in an interview on 105.7 The Fan. “I was there the last four days of instructs. Saw him play in a few games, watched him hit a little bit on the back fields and watched him take ground balls. It’s physical. It’s big. He’s got big shoulders and a really nice arm and he’s super athletic. The swing from the left side, they made some nice adjustments from where I saw him before in a year until now.
“The swing adjustments have really improved and he’s really driving the baseball. We have high hopes for Gunnar. I was really impressed with what I saw. The physicality of him. Looks like Corey Seager-type shoulders, maybe a little bit thicker. And really athletic and young. The strides that I’ve seen him make from when he got drafted to now is impressive.”
Over his last four starts, Means went 2-1 with a 1.52 ERA, a .488 OPS against and a 0.63 WHIP. It was a remarkable turnaround led by a fastball that he could both command expertly and throw with late movement and life. He was relying heavily on that pitch at the end of the year. It was exploding on hitters and they often could not connect against it. Means’ strikeout rate was 5.4 per nine innings in his first six starts and 11.4 over the last four.
Getting two for seven figures: In this story recently we took a look at the beginning of the international amateur signing period.
The Orioles announced a signing class of 17 international players, including the club’s first two players signed for seven figures. The club announced contract agreements with catcher Samuel Basallo from the Dominican Republic and with Venezuelan shortstop Maikol Hernández. MASNSports.com was the first to report that Basallo signed for a $1.3 million bonus and Hernandez for $1.2 million.
The Orioles announced that 11 more from this class got six-figure agreements. Of the 17 agreements, 13 players are from the Dominican Republic and four are from Venezuela.