Orioles introduce second-round pick Henderson

June 26th, 2019

BALTIMORE -- When Gunnar Henderson was a boy, his dad built a baseball field in their family backyard. This was in Selma, Ala., where Gunnar and his older brother, Jackson, competed in a variety of sports. Soccer, football and basketball included. They excelled in many of them, Gunnar eventually growing into an All-State basketball player as well as a standout on the diamond.

But baseball was the one that stuck, not just for Gunnar, but the entire Henderson clan. Their youngest son, Cade, became enamored with the Orioles from afar, a fervent fan of Manny Machado. Jackson earned a place on the baseball team at Auburn University, a perennial contender in collegiate baseball’s best conference. By the time Gunnar shot up the amateur prospect ranks, he’d verbally committed to join him. Then the O's themselves came calling.

“We used to play back there together, go practice every day,” Henderson said of that backyard field, a home white Orioles jersey draped on his shoulders. “Growing up and competing, that installed a great work ethic, and then my mom and dad [taught] me to never give up and work your hardest.”

Flash forward to Wednesday, when the journey that started on that field led Gunnar, officially, to Baltimore. Three weeks after selecting him with the No. 42 overall pick in the MLB Draft on June 3, the Orioles introduced their second-round selection similarly to the way they welcomed top overall pick Adley Rutschman a day before. A shortstop who was considered one of the best prep hitters in this year’s Draft class, Henderson met with O's manager Brandon Hyde, toured Oriole Park and took infield grounders and batting practice with the big league club.

The Orioles also signed third-round pick Zach Watson, an outfielder from Louisiana State, on Wednesday. The club has now signed 32 of its 2019 Draft selections, and each of its top 10 picks. Watson signed for $780,400, full slot value for the 79th overall pick, according to MLB Pipeline's Jim Callis.

“This is another big day and a big week for the future of this franchise,” Orioles general manager and executive vice president Mike Elias said. “This is the type of talent that we want to be bringing in to an organization that’s in the process of adding the best young players that we can.”

Viewed by many as a potential first-round talent prior to the Draft, the O's were thrilled when Henderson fell slightly, perhaps due to signability concerns, allowing them to snatch him up with the first pick of the second round. Gunnar said he has spent the weeks since praying on the decision, asking God to reveal the proper path.

The Orioles played their part too, offering Henderson more than $500,000 above slot value to convince him to forgo his commitment to Auburn. The two sides agreed to a reported $2.3 million bonus Monday. The deal was a culmination around a calendar year in the making for Elias, who personally scouted Henderson around 30 times last summer as the Astros’ scouting director.

Still just 17 years old (until Saturday), Henderson will begin his professional career in the Gulf Coast League. He immediately becomes the top infield prospects in Baltimore's system, whether or not the 6-3, 195-pound Henderson sticks at shortstop long-term.

“There may be some development ahead of him, but the ceiling is really high,” Elias said. “It wasn’t until this spring that he cemented himself as a top 40 pick, but those of us who saw him all summer, you look at the athleticism, the youth, the fact that he comes from a small school and a small state, and you think he might pop in the spring. And he did.”

From the trainers’ room

Baltimore received better news with regards to John Means, who overcame the final hurdle in returning from the IL by throwing a bullpen session Tuesday without issue. Means is scheduled to return Friday against Cleveland.

Placed on the injured list last week with left deltoid tightness, Means ended up missing just one start. The rookie southpaw has emerged as the O's most effective starter this season, going 6-4 with a 2.67 ERA in 16 games (12 starts). Baltimore optioned righty Matt Wotherspoon to Triple-A Norfolk after Wednesday's 10-5 loss, a preemptive move to make space on the 25-man roster for Means.

Also making progress is reliever , who tested his right shoulder strain with a throwing session Wednesday. Lucas is scheduled to test it further with a bullpen session this weekend. The right-hander has been on the IL since June 14.

Nearly three weeks after spraining his right ankle during an outfield collision in Texas, rookie right fielder began a rehab assignment Tuesday with the Orioles’ GCL affiliate. Stewart will likely need to prove healthy enough to play at the upper levels before he is considered ready to return in full.

Stewart had gone 4-for-24 (.167) over seven games at the big league level prior to his injury.

Trade complete

The O's completed a trade with the Pirates on Wednesday afternoon, acquiring Minor League infielder Patrick Dorrian from Pittsburgh. Dorrian is the player to be named later Baltimore sent right-hander Yefry Ramirez to the Pirates for on May 27. He will be assigned to Class A Fredrick.