It's unanimous! Gunnar named AL Rookie of the Year

November 14th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- For the first time in 34 years, an Orioles rookie has been named the best in the American League.

won the 2023 AL Rookie of the Year Award on Monday night, and he became the first Baltimore player to earn the honor in unanimous fashion, receiving all 30 first-place votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The 22-year-old infielder’s 150 points made him the clear winner over the other two finalists: Cleveland right-hander Tanner Bibee (67) and Boston first baseman Triston Casas (25).

“It was something that was on my mind, but I just went out there and tried to play as hard as I could each and every day,” Henderson said of the award. “I felt like I had a good shot if I just went out there and did that.”

No Orioles player had been named Rookie of the Year since right-hander Gregg Olson earned the honor in 1989. Only one MLB team entered the 2023 season with a longer ROY drought -- the Padres, who haven’t had a rookie receive the National League honor since Benito Santiago in 1987.

Henderson -- the 13th unanimous AL ROY and first since Seattle outfielder Kyle Lewis in 2020 -- became the seventh AL Rookie of the Year winner in O’s history, joining Olson, Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. (1982) and Eddie Murray (‘77), Al Bumbry (‘73), Curt Blefary (‘65) and Ron Hansen (‘60). Only five MLB teams have had more ROY recipients -- the Dodgers (18), Yankees (nine), Braves (nine), A’s (eight) and Reds (eight).

Ripken, who had been the most recent Baltimore position player to win this award, joined Monday’s MLB Network broadcast to announce Henderson’s victory. It was a memorable moment for Henderson, who has had numerous opportunities to speak with the Iron Man in recent years.

“Just one of the best to ever do it,” Henderson said. “Him having the support, to be able to take time out of his day to do this and just come into the clubhouse and stuff and chat with me -- it’s been pretty special to have a guy like that. I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done, and I’m looking forward to many conversations with him.”

It’s no surprise Henderson’s first full big league season resulted in an AL Rookie of the Year-worthy campaign. Many predicted he would win the award at the start of the year, when he was still ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline.

After an impressive 34-game debut stint with Baltimore late in the 2022 season, Henderson started slow in ‘23, entering May 13 with a .170 batting average. Still, the Orioles remained confident that the 2019 second-round Draft pick would get going -- and they were right.

Henderson ended up leading the team in Wins Above Replacement per Baseball-Reference (6.2) and being named Most Valuable Oriole by the local media. He ranked first among AL rookies in bWAR, fWAR (4.6), home runs (28), triples (nine), RBIs (82) and runs scored (100), while batting .255 with an .814 OPS in 150 games and winning a Silver Slugger Award in the AL utility category.

Although Henderson’s bat didn’t heat up until late May/early June, his defense remained steady. He compiled a team-high 13 defensive runs saved between shortstop (64 starts, 584 2/3 innings) and third base (68 starts, 594 2/3 innings). His 10 DRS at short ranked third in the AL.

“Being able to get through that little struggle in the beginning was, honestly, the biggest thing for me, because some guys can get caught up in that and then just have a really hard time getting over it,” Henderson said. “But I’m very thankful that the Orioles let me go through it, and make it through it, and then being able to put a good year together.”

It was one of the best rookie seasons in Orioles history. Henderson set team rookie records for bWAR, runs scored, extra-base hits (66) and slugging percentage (.489), and he joined Ripken and Murray as the only O’s rookies to record at least 25 doubles and 25 homers.

“Everything that he does at his age, and the way he does it, it’s a treat to watch for me, as somebody who has been watching baseball my whole life,” Baltimore general manager Mike Elias said in October. “It’s a treat for me to watch Gunnar Henderson play baseball. I’m so happy that we have him. Can’t say enough good things about him.”

No moment has been too big for Henderson, who logged only 246 Minor League games after coming out of John T. Morgan Academy in Selma, Ala. His impressive play this year helped Baltimore go 101-61, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2016, and capturing its first AL East title since ‘14.

Rookie of the Year balloting took place at the conclusion of the regular season, but Henderson used the postseason stage to prove the BBWAA voters made the right choice.

Henderson had the best showing of any Orioles player as the team was swept by the eventual World Series champion Rangers in the AL Division Series. He went 6-for-12 with a homer, two RBIs and three runs scored in the three-game set.

“He's going to be a bright spot in this league for a long time,” manager Brandon Hyde said at the end of the ALDS. “He's going to be a special player and he had a really nice series -- and he's an ultra-competitor. He never gives in, plays so hard, plays to win.”

After getting his first taste of October baseball -- as well as enduring the crushing blow of postseason defeat -- Henderson will head into his sophomore campaign hungry for more in 2024.

“Hated it ended that way, but there’s good that can come out of this. We can use it as fuel for next year,” Henderson said. “Just don’t want to feel this feeling again, so I’m sure everybody’s going to have that on their minds.”