The Orioles have officially selected top prospect’s contract Gunnar Henderson. In corresponding moves, infielder Tyler Nevin got an option on Triple-A and right-handed Denyi Reyes was assigned to order.
There was widespread speculation that Henderson would receive his first MLB promotion when the roster expands on September 1, but by calling Henderson into the major leagues today, the Orioles have now qualified the infielder for inclusion on a postseason roster if Baltimore are his competition continues. surprising season with a playoff berth.
A second-round pick for Baltimore in the 2019 draft, Henderson played in just 29 Rookie League games that season and then, of course, didn’t play at all in 2020 due to the canceled minor league campaign. His first proper pro season saw Henderson play well enough to jump from A-ball to Double-A in 2021, and it put him on the top-100 prospect radar heading into the 2022 season.
Fast-forward to August, and the 21-year-old is now the best prospect in the sport in the eyes of Baseball America, with MLB Pipeline placing Henderson second and Fangraphs placing him fifth. Over 503 combined at bats at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2022, Henderson hit .297/.416/.531 with 19 home runs, as well as 22 steals in 25 chances.
In addition to his strength, speed and hitting tools, Henderson is also an experienced fielder with a good throwing arm. Drafted as shortstop, Henderson has looked good at the position, but he has also seen a lot of time as a third baseman this season and also played a handful of games at first and second base. The Orioles have so many other promising young infielders (e.g., Jordan Westburg, Jackson vacation) in the pipeline that the team will try to be flexible in determining the ideal future position for each of these prospects, and the use of Henderson could also indicate how the O’s will use him over the long run of the 2022 season.
The left-handed Henderson can spell any of them: Ramon Urias, Jorge Mateoor Ryan Mountcastle (all justified bats) on third, short or first base, and Henderson can also take playing time away from rough smell on second base. Henderson is certainly not being called up to sit on the bench, and he could quickly become a fixture if he does well in his first look at major league pitching.
Of course, it’s not obvious that Henderson will have such a quick start, as countless top prospects have taken some time to get used to the majors. In Henderson’s case, his high strikeout rate among the minors is something of a red flag, although he has reduced his swing-and-miss in 2022 compared to 2021. He had also posted huge BABIP numbers among the minors, but Henderson’s speed (and the ability to beat grounders) is certainly a factor in those BABIP totals beyond just batted-ball fortune.
These are tumultuous times for the Orioles, who have emerged from years of doldrum rebuilding to set a 67-61 record and compete for a wildcard berth. Adley Rutschman – an exception to the credo “top prospects usually take time to adjust” – has already become one of baseball’s best catchers, and other rookies like Felix Bautista, Dean Kremerand Kyle Bradish have played outsized roles in the team’s success. Kyle Stowers and Terrin Vavrac are two more rookies who made their MLB debuts in 2022, and Henderson is just one of many other top prospects waiting to get out of Baltimore’s fraught farm system.
As recently noted by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Henderson will also still maintain his rookie status through 2023 if he gets less than 13o at bats, and so the Orioles can still benefit from the Prospect Promotion Initiative included in the new collective labor contract. This would put the O’s in line for a bonus draw if Henderson remains on the active roster for the entire 2023 season.
Reyes made his Major League-debut this season with a 2.35 ERA in 7 2/3 innings over three appearances. A starter for much of his seven-year pro career in the Red Sox and Orioles farm systems, Reyes hasn’t had much consistency at the Double-A or Triple-A level, and he has a 7.50 ERA over 42 innings with Baltimore’s Triple-A hooked up this season.
Reyes has allowed 10 home runs in those 42 frames, continuing a long ball problem that has now arisen over the past two seasons. Handing in more home runs negated the gains Reyes had made on his strikeout speed, and he has shown excellent control throughout his career, hitting a small 1.4 BB/9 in his 584 1/3 minor league innings .