Needing a spark for a feast-or-famine offense scoring three or fewer runs in five of the last six games, the Orioles are promoting top prospect Gunnar Henderson to the major leagues.
The 21-year-old infielder has been summoned to Cleveland and will make his major league debut as Baltimore continues its three-game set with the Guardians. This marks the second time in just over three months that the Orioles have called up a prospect viewed by many as the best in baseball after standout catcher Adley Rutschman made his debut on May 21. Having gone 51-37 since Rutschman arrived in the majors and eventually became the club’s best player, the surprising Orioles hope Henderson can have a similar effect as they entered Wednesday trailing the final wild-card spot by three games.
Selected in the second round of the 2019 draft out of John T. Morgan Academy in Alabama, Henderson has primarily played shortstop and third base in the minors, but he’s also received starts on the right side of the infield in recent weeks, making him even more versatile as the Orioles try to jump-start an infield that’s largely struggled at the plate this season. Beginning the 2022 season at Double-A Bowie and posting a 1.025 on-base plus slugging percentage for the Baysox before being promoted to Triple-A in early June, the lefty-swinging Henderson batted .288 with 11 home runs, 13 doubles, four triples, 41 runs batted in, 10 stolen bases, and an .894 OPS in 295 plate appearances for the Tides, making a call-up to the majors all but inevitable with the Orioles surprisingly in playoff contention.
With the organization showing a strong preference for drafting college hitters before selecting high school shortstop Jackson Holliday first overall in last month’s draft, general manager Mike Elias has labeled Henderson “a flagship aspect of what our player development group is doing on the hitting side” since the current regime arrived in the fall of 2018. The gifted infielder’s three-year ascension from high school to the majors is more impressive when considering the 2020 cancellation of the minor league season because of the pandemic.
Where the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Henderson will play remains to be seen, but the most logical spot in the short term should be third base with Jorge Mateo playing Gold Glove defense at shortstop and Ramon Urias capable of moving over to second base and into a timeshare with Rougned Odor and Terrin Vavra. The Orioles optioned reserve infielder Tyler Nevin to Norfolk to make room for Henderson on the 26-man roster and designated pitcher Denyi Reyes for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. Currently on the taxi squad in Cleveland, lefty pitcher DL Hall is expected to be recalled when rosters expand to 28 players on Thursday.
The Orioles have also signed 32-year-old first baseman Jesus Aguilar to a minor-league deal. A career .255 hitter with a .777 OPS over his nine-year major league career, Aguilar was released by Miami last week.