This story was excerpted from Jake Rill’s Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
BALTIMORE -- Adjustments. That was the one word that grabbed my attention during a recent chat with Gunnar Henderson.
Although Henderson has struggled over the first six weeks of the season, the 21-year-old has seemingly looked a bit more comfortable at the plate in May. The numbers haven’t gone up, but some loud, hard contact has suggested a breakout is coming. Is that how he feels?
“I’ve made some adjustments. I’m feeling really good at the box,” Henderson said. “That’s all you can do, is just do that and trust the process.”
A hitter saying he’s making adjustments is commonplace. But Henderson had previously told me the reason he broke out of a 1-for-31 slump at High-A Aberdeen in June 2021 was because he didn’t make changes. He didn’t want to go down the “rabbit hole” of adjusting where he stood in the batter’s box, how his hands gripped the bat, or his entire stance.
Henderson had plenty of success at John T. Morgan Academy in Selma, Ala., and in the lowest levels of the Orioles’ farm system after getting selected in the second round of the 2019 MLB Draft. He was confident he’d snap out of it then -- and he did while ascending the rest of the Minors before arriving in the Majors last Aug. 31.
So I followed up and asked Henderson -- what adjustments is he making now?
“Little small minor stuff. Nothing too drastic,” he said.
It makes sense. Henderson still trusts his overall hitting mechanics, which helped him become MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 prospect entering 2023. But considering he batted .170 through his first 33 games of the year, there had to be something he could tweak.
Again, one word from a longer answer by Henderson piqued my interest, and it was one I’ve heard other hitters in Baltimore’s clubhouse use dating back to Spring Training.
Posture. That’s what the O’s coaching staff has been aiming to correct in some players, including Henderson. It sounds simple, but what exactly does that entail? To get more information, I asked Baltimore co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller.
“You have your stance, your setup, your forward move, how you load your body, and then where you get to when you land before you rotate,” Fuller said. “And [Henderson’s] just getting a little lean back when he lands in the box. So when the front foot hits, his shoulders are kind of uphill and it just doesn’t give him length through the zone.”
Here’s an example:
On the left (April 1), Henderson’s front shoulder is higher than his back shoulder, giving him an “uphill” posture. It resulted in a whiff for a strikeout. On the right (Tuesday), his shoulders are more even, and the outcome was a 99.9 mph triple belted to the right-center-field gap.
The difference is subtle, but Fuller said the better posture can allow Henderson to connect well on pitches regardless of their speed or location.
“It’s been just getting his body in a good spot to drive the baseball on different parts of the zone -- high and away, low and in -- but then pitch speeds, too,” Fuller said. “‘Do you have the ability to stay through a changeup? Can you catch a fastball really deep and still hit a line drive oppo?’ So he’s getting close to being pretty matchup-proof.”
Earlier this week, general manager Mike Elias expressed confidence in imminent success for Henderson, citing the youngster’s high walk total (25, second on the O’s) and power. As he makes these minor adjustments in an attempt to reach his offensive potential, he’ll continue getting consistent opportunities in the big leagues to do so.
"He’s putting the work in. He’s grinding out at-bats,” Elias said. “I think he’s going to snap out of this pretty soon.”
Fuller, who joined the Orioles’ organization as the Minor League hitting coordinator in 2019 and has a lengthy history with Henderson, is sure of it.
“We know he’s going to figure it out,” Fuller said. “There is absolutely no doubt about him. He’s going to be a really special player in this game -- this year, and for a really long time ahead.”