‘The sky’s the limit’: Gunnar’s top moments from ROY season

November 15th, 2023

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 -- Before manager Brandon Hyde was named the 2023 American League Manager of the Year on Tuesday, the Orioles’ skipper celebrated a similar achievement for one of his top young players the night before.

Baltimore went 2-for-2 to open the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Awards season, as  captured the AL Rookie of the Year honor. It’s the third time the O’s have won multiple BBWAA Awards in the same year -- Jim Palmer (Cy Young) and Al Bumbry (ROY) received honors in 1973, and Frank Robinson (MOY) and Gregg Olson (ROY) did so in ‘89.

Hyde couldn’t have led the 2023 Orioles to 101 wins and an AL East title without the performances of players like Henderson, one of baseball’s rising stars.

“There was a lot of hype coming into the season from how he finished the year before in September, No. 1 prospect in baseball as a 21-year-old,” Hyde said. “How he handled it was just unbelievably impressive. And then he became a force in the league really from May or June on, the way he was able to drive a baseball, impact the game with his legs, how he played defense at shortstop and third base. So impressed by him. The sky’s the limit for him.”

There should be a bright future ahead for Henderson, and the toolsy infielder showed why that’s likely to be the case quite often this year. Let’s count down the five most memorable moments from his AL Rookie of the Year Award-winning 2023 campaign.

5. July 21-22: Flashing the leather all over The Trop

We’ll begin this descending ranking with a two-for-one defensive special. The Orioles won three of four games against the AL East-rival Rays at Tropicana Field from July 20-23, and Henderson’s glovework was impressive in that series.

On July 21, Henderson made a tremendous play at shortstop, tumbling to the ground and then springing to his feet to rob Randy Arozarena of a hit on a grounder up the middle. The next day, Henderson one-upped himself, this time at third base. He made a diving catch to his right on a liner off the bat of Isaac Paredes, then immediately stood up and fired to first to nab Brandon Lowe for an inning-ending double play.

4. July 6: Putting on a show in New York

Henderson opened a game at Yankee Stadium with his first career leadoff home run, and he was only getting started. By the end of the fourth inning, he was 4-for-4 with two homers and five RBIs, as he also belted a three-run blast in the fourth for his first multihomer game. Henderson finished 4-for-7 in the Orioles’ 14-1 win over the Yankees.

3. Sept. 1: One ROY throws out another

Henderson’s top defensive highlight may have been one that came at the expense of Arizona’s Corbin Carroll, this year’s National League Rookie of the Year. After tracking down a Nick Ahmed popup in shallow left field, Henderson completed a basket catch and then threw a 90.2 mph laser to home to nab Carroll, who was running at an elite sprint speed of 31.1 feet per second, per Statcast. It was another jaw-dropping inning-ending double play turned by Henderson.

2. June 11: The 462-foot Eutaw Street home run

Nobody in the 32 seasons of baseball played at Camden Yards has hit a longer home run onto Eutaw Street during a game than Henderson, who belted a Statcast-projected 462-foot homer there in an 11-3 victory over the Royals. The only home run to hit the warehouse stationed beyond Eutaw Street came from Ken Griffey Jr., who did so in the 1993 Home Run Derby. Henderson might have the left-handed power to also hit the warehouse someday.

1. Aug. 20: Close to a cycle, but even better

Who needs a cycle when you can get four extra-base hits instead? That was Henderson’s thinking when he came to the plate a single shy of the cycle in the eighth inning of a game at Oakland Coliseum. Instead of becoming the first O’s rookie to hit for the cycle, he became the youngest player in team history with four extra-base hits in a game, as he doubled down the right-field line. Henderson always plays at max effort, and he proved that by not stopping at first base.