Gunnar Henderson is eager for his first major league season to begin. After an excellent beginning to his career when he hit .259 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 34 games, Henderson is still a rookie and still unsure of where he’s going to play in the field, even though most assume it’s going to be third base.
“I feel like it will be on the left side somewhere. I don’t know what position it will be” Henderson said at an event at the Maryland Food Bank where he joined teammates Ryan McKenna, Ryan Mountcastle and Kyle Stowers, manager Brandon Hyde and executive vice president/general manager in preparing food packages.
Henderson started 18 games at third base, six at shortstop and three at second base, but third or shortstop will be his positions in 2023.
“I’m just taking reps at both and whichever they put me at is where I’ll play,” Henderson said. “I don’t mind bouncing around. I feel like they tie into each other real well … I enjoy it, but whichever they want to do is ultimately what I’ll do.”
Henderson’s play excited the Orioles as they improved by 31 games and stayed in the playoff race until the last week of the season.
“Last year was a great experience,” Henderson said. “We were three games [in] late September, so it was really awesome to be able to go through that. We all know we can do it. It just a matter of when.”
Henderson has never been to big league spring training, and he knows he’ll be on the roster leaving camp.
“It definitely takes a little pressure off,” Henderson said. “I’m still going in with the mindset of still trying to make the team. I like being to just go out there and prove myself and I like to play as hard as I can and do all the right things.”
Despite his five weeks in the major leagues, Henderson, 21, is still eligible for the Rookie of the Year award and has been named the top prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline and Baseball America.
“It doesn’t mean anything unless you go out there and prove it,” Henderson said. “That’s what I’m going to do. It’s nice being able to be recognized for that. The work doesn’t stop. I’m going to go out there with full effort and play as hard as I do.”
Elias on Rodriguez: General manager Mike Elias has said that he would like to see top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez begin the season in the starting rotation. Because Rodriguez missed three months last season with a lat injury and threw 75 2/3 innings, his innings are going to be monitored carefully.
“It’s a great question and an ongoing conversation that we’re having,” Elias said at a press briefing on Friday. “This is very tricky … Now we’re in a mode where we want to get our best pitchers out there pitching as much as possible so we can win as many games as we can.
“Talking to our medical staff, our pitching department. We’ve got a lot of people involved in the conversation. I think it’s going to be individualized. I think it’s going to depend on a lot of circumstances and the phrase that we’re going to use is, ‘we’re going to bring our brains to it on a night-to-night, start-to start basis,’ but there are not hard and fast limits that we’re going to blanket across all the pitchers in our organization this year.
“His health and long-term career, it’s going to be managed very carefully.”
Hyde on camp competition: Elias said that Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin, the Orioles’ offseason acquisition, are two of the five starters, and that there are 10 others in the mix for spots. There are perhaps three openings for relievers and perhaps one open spot for a position player.
Entering his fifth season, manager Brandon Hyde said it’s refreshing to have so much talent in camp.
“The competition we have in camp is something we really haven’t had here,” he said on Friday. “This is the first time that we’ve gone with no true non-rebuild mode, to go out and try to win games.”
In his previous four seasons, there were many positions up for grabs. Now, the Orioles may have to send out players who would have easily made the club in previous years.
“I think it’s going to be really difficult,” he said of roster decisions. “The harder it is, the better your club is. Sending guys down or whatever, guys you don’t want to just because you don’t have room. I’m hoping we have a ton of tough decisions at the end of camp. We have a lot of depth now … I hope we have a lot of tough decisions.”
Birdland Caravan: The Birdland Caravan visits Checkerspot Brewing Company, 1399 South Sharp Street in Baltimore from 4-6 p.m. on Saturday. Elias, Hyde, catcher Adley Rutschman, Rodriguez and left-handers DL Hall and Nick Vespi, infielders Ramón Urías and Terrin Vavra and outfielder Heston Kjerstad will be guest bartenders.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB