He’s No. 1: Baseball America’s JJ Cooper on Gunnar Henderson

Baseball America has been publishing its Top 100 prospects list since 1990, and only once before has an organization had two different players ranked No. 1 two years in a row in their January winter rankings. Now the Orioles have a chance to match that.

Last January, Adley Rutschman was No. 1 and this week infielder Gunnar Henderson moved up to No. 1 in Baseball America’s latest top 100 update. They now update their January release once a month in season. If Henderson remains No. 1 in the January standings this winter, the Orioles would tie the Cardinals, who had No. 1 JD Drew in 1999 and No. 1 Rick Ankiel in 2000.

Incidentally, Rutschman and Henderson were Mike Elias’ first two draft picks after he took over as executive vice president and general manager of the Orioles.

Henderson had a standout year on the Baltimore farm starting with Double-A Bowie and moving to Triple-A Norfolk in early June. He hit for the cycle this year and played in the All-Star Futures Game. He is only 21 years old.

When Rutschman reached 130 major league at-bats, he “graduated” from the top-100 list and was therefore removed. For a time, Tigers outfielder Riley Greene moved up to No. 1, then in late July, Blue Jays wide receiver Gabriel Moreno was No. 1. But now Henderson has passed him for the top spot, as Moreno fell to third with outfielder Jackson Chourio. of the Brewers second.

Baseball America editor JJ Cooper explained why Henderson rose to No. 1.

“I think it’s pretty clear that Gunnar Henderson ticks the most boxes (for No. 1),” Cooper said. “He played in the upper levels of the minors, which is always useful. He has an extremely complete game. It’s really hard to point fingers at anything he doesn’t do well. He has five tools above average or better. He’s going to have a lot of defensive value, whether it’s shortstop or third base. He’s a very good baserunner. He hits for medium and power and has a strong arm.

“You combine that with this performance and it helps you feel comfortable that all of the projections that we hear and see match the performance.”

After going 1 for 4 with two runs and two walks in Triple-A Norfolk’s win last night, through 94 games with the Baysox and Tides, Henderson is batting .303/.430/.553 with a .983 OPS, 20 doubles, six triples, 17 home runs, 16 steals and 63 RBIs.

His discipline at home plate has taken a big leap forward this year. In 2021, he batted 143 times with 56 walks. This year, those numbers are 87 strikeouts for 71 walks, and his on-base percentage has gone from .350 to .430.

“I will say it’s not a shocking development,” Cooper added. “When you spoke to the scouts last year, there were scouts who really thought this was going to happen for him. That his performance last year was probably a bit below what they expected of him in the long run. term. It’s hard to say they expected that because this year he’s played about as well as anyone in the minors. But it’s definitely a step up and for an organization that has seen a number of hitters step forward this year.

I asked Cooper what Henderson’s production advantage would be at the big league level.

“The thing that I come back to, what I think he’s going to do really well, is contribute in so many different ways,” Cooper said. “I keep coming back to the baserunning thing – he’s an outstanding baserunner. And I don’t mean from the perspective that he’s a runner and an 80 burner. He runs well, but he’s someone which is going to take some extra grounding where you watch a game and think that was a really smart, aggressive move.

“You add how he is going to impact a game defensively. Whether he’s short or third probably depends on the needs of the team. He could be a very good defenseman in the short term, but I talk to people who think that at third he could be one of the best defensemen at that position in baseball. So you have those aspects where he can help a team in addition to being a potential midfielder of the order bat.

Baseball America has announced the winner of the Minor League Player of the Year award since 1981. The only Oriole to win it was Matt Wieters in 2008. Recent winners include Ronald Acuna Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and last year Bobby Witt Jr.

“He’s one of the top candidates for Minor League Player of the Year, there’s no doubt about that,” Cooper said of Henderson. “If you look at our criteria, there are a few things there. The season you have is the most important thing. But on top of that, we’re trying to award a minor league player of the year which is an award with power. It’s not just the best season in the minor leagues. This is the best season for a player who should go on to do great things at the major league level as well. Gunnar Henderson checks a lot of those boxes.”

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