Gunnar Henderson has seen opposing pitchers make adjustments to him this season. So far, he has managed to stay one step ahead of the competition.
Henderson, who was the Orioles’ second-round pick in 2019, is hitting .313 with six home runs and leads the Low-A East League with 30 RBIs. He entered the 2021 season ranked as the No. 7 Orioles prospect, according to Baseball America.
“They worked me in, worked me away,” Henderson, 19, told BalimoreBaseball.com. “It just depends on what they see and what they feel like will work. I just have to make adjustments to what they’re pitching me. The quicker you can make the adjustments, the more successful you’ll be.”
Henderson has managed to pound the baseball despite not having a minor league season last year because of the pandemic. He took advantage of his time at the alternate training site in Bowie and also worked with his coaches throughout spring training.
It helped with the transition to a minor league season.
“With the instructional league, we got to play games there,” Henderson said. “I was able to get live at-bats and prepare myself. You can’t really prepare for the full games but this spring training really helped me get ready for the season and get a glimpse of what it would be like. I felt like it hadn’t been too much of a jump. I’m just trying to get into a good routine.”
Henderson was signed as a shortstop from John T. Morgan Academy, where he named the Alabama Gatorade State Player of the Year in 2019 after hitting 559/.641/1.225 (57-for-102) with 11 home runs, 69 runs, 75 RBI, and 28 stolen bases in 32 games.
He has split time between shortstop and third base at Delmarva and that versatility could expedite his ascent to the big-league club.
Henderson has been flexible with the change.
“I’ve always been a shortstop growing up so I prefer that,” he said. “But I’d be more than happy to play whichever position to help at the big-league level.”
Henderson is also developing as a power hitter that could be a fixture in the middle of the Orioles’ lineup in the next couple of years. He began his professional career with the GCL Orioles in 2019, appearing in 29 games, slashing .259/.331/.370 (28-for-108) with eight extra-base hits.
“I felt the work I put in the offseason has been beneficial,” Henderson said. “I’ve gotten stronger ever since I stopped growing. I’ve been able to fill out my body and I work with all of the strength coaches here. They have a plan specifically for me. It’s been a huge help, and I have been able to see the benefits so far. I feel like I can hit for power and average. I feel like I can always make contact pretty well.”
Henderson was named the Low-A East League Player of the Week for the week of May 10-16 after going 10-for-23 (.435) with four doubles, a homer, and 13 RBIs during a six-game sweep of Fredericksburg, a Washington Nationals affiliate. He also got a taste of major league spring training.
“I feel like it’s come to a lot better each and every week,” he said. “Hats off to my teammates for just getting on the base to put me in those situations. I’ve been able to come up with good plans each and every week and they’ve helped me be successful in those situations.”
Henderson has also made the necessary adjustments to life as a minor leaguer.
“When you’re getting done at 11 o’clock every night, a lot of restaurants are closed,” Henderson said. “I am just trying to find some good food to eat and keep your body healthy. That can be a challenge.”
His goal is to improve every day.
“I’m still just trying to play as hard as I can,” Henderson said. “God ultimately has a plan, and I’ll just follow that. If I just play well, hopefully, I’ll be able to move up soon. You never know.”