The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Is Gunnar Henderson Better Than the Orioles Thought He Would Be?

Shortstop Gunnar Henderson is the currently the best player for the Baltimore Orioles. Some would say he’s one of the best in the American League. He’s one of the main reasons the O’s are among the best teams in the league. The Orioles obviously thought a lot of him, since they selected him in the second round of the 2019 MLB draft. But did they think he was going to be as good as he has turned out?

Henderson was the ninth shortstop selected in that year’s draft, with the other eight being selected before him in the first round. Bobby Witt Jr., the No. 1 overall selection, was the prize of the draft, being selected out of high school by the Kansas City Royals. Four other current major leaguers were among those selected ahead of him, including CJ Abrams (Nationals), Bryson Stott (Phillies), Braden Shewmake (White Sox), and Anthony Volpe (Yankees).

Coming out of high school in Alabama, it might be expected it would take Henderson three or four years to reach the majors. The Orioles were really in no hurry to get him to the majors, as they already had speedy shortstop Jorge Mateo, only 26 years old, as the starter. Henderson missed the entire 2020 season due to the pandemic but progressed well enough to get a stint with the big-league Orioles in a September call-up in 2022.

Meanwhile, the Orioles continued to draft shortstops in high rounds (Jordan Westburg in 1st round and Anthony Servideo in the 3rd round in 2020, No. 6 Collin Burns in the 6th round in 2021, and the overall No. 1 pick Jackson Holliday in 2022). Was it because the verdict was still out on Henderson’s future as a potential starter?

Everyone just assumed the phenom Holliday would quickly ascend to the big leagues and become the starter at shortstop, and Henderson would be moved to second or third base, if he continued to progress. Holliday began to prove them right, as he progressed from Single-A to Triple-A during the 2023 season and was named the Minor League Player of the Year.

But Henderson had other ideas. Splitting time between shortstop and third base, he was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2023, earning a Silver Slugger Award and finishing eighth in the MVP voting. He and catcher Adley Rutschmann led the Orioles to a surprising AL East championship. Meanwhile the versatile Mateo and Westburg also found plenty of playing time in the infield.

Henderson has even been better in 2024. He leads the Orioles in HRs, RBIs, OBP, SLG, and OPS. He is third in the AL in OPS+ (174) and is cementing himself as one of the finest young shortstops in either league.

He is giving the Orioles front office second thoughts about Holliday becoming the heir apparent to the shortstop position. The 20-year-old Holliday got called up from the minors for 10 games in April and struggled at the plate. Now there is speculation that Holliday might man second base or even the outfield for the Orioles when he makes it back permanently in the big leagues.

There’s another school of thought that the Orioles should trade Holliday now for some top pitching talent, when his trade value is at its highest. That’s how confident the Orioles are with Henderson in the shortstop spot for years to come.

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