Gunnar Henderson Is One of Baseball’s Most Promising Young Hitters

© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

On September 1, one day after baseball’s no. 5 overall prospect made his major league debut, Dan Szymborski wrote that the Baltimore Orioles “showed mercy to minor league pitchers … officially calling up infielder Gunnar Henderson.” As my colleague pointed out, the 21-year-old left-handed hitter had slashed .297/.416/.531 with 19 home runs over 112 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. His wRC+ was a healthy 154.

Henderson has continued to impress at the big-league level. In 110 plate appearances with the O’s, the young slugger has punished pitchers to the tune of a 139 wRC+, with 12 of his 27 hits going for extra bases. He’s left the yard four times, with the latest of those blasts leaving his bat at 111.1 mph and traveling 428 feet into Fenway Park’s center field bleachers.

Henderson sat down to talk hitting on Tuesday, one day before he was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year.

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David Laurila: Let’s start with your evolution as a hitter. What do you know now that you didn’t when you were drafted by the Orioles [42nd overall in 2019 out of Selma, Alabama’s John T. Morgan Academy]?

Gunnar Henderson: “I would say that it’s the number of good pitches you get to hit. In high school, you’ll get multiple pitches to hit within an at-bat, and then as you progress, at each and every level, it’s less and less. Especially here in the big leagues. You really have to take your walks and not give in to what the pitcher wants you to do. You’ve got to hunt for that one pitch, because you might only get one, maybe two, a game.”

Laurila: How do you go about doing that?

Henderson: “I feel like it’s really preparing for the pitcher. It’s knowing what you’re good at, seeing what he’s good at, and kind of matching that up with what he’s going to try to do. You try to put the odds in your corner and wait him out until he messes up.”

Laurila: It’s been said that hitters don’t hit home runs, but rather pitchers throw home runs…

Henderson: “Yeah. I mean, they’ll make mistakes and you’ve got to hit them. And then sometimes they’ll make a [pitcher’s] pitch but because you have the right plan going in, you’ll still hit one out. So it just depends on how you go about the at-bat, and how well you planned against him.”

Laurila: You hit an absolute bomb here last night. I assume you got the pitch you were looking for?

Henderson: “Yeah. He was kind of struggling to get in the zone a little bit. He’d given up a home run to Tony [Anthony Santander], then walked Mounty [Ryan Mountcastle], so I figured they were going to try to get back in the zone pretty quickly. I was able to get into a good count and get a pitch out over the plate.”

Laurila: To what extent do you look for a specific pitch, as opposed to simply one out over the plate?

Henderson: “It depends on what their arsenal is. If they have a bunch of pitches, you really can’t look for just one, because they’re going to throw the kitchen sink at you. If they have power stuff, you kind of look for an area and react to everything else.”

Laurila: How many plate appearances have you had since getting called up?

Henderson: “I think I’m closing in on 100.”

Laurila: Are you getting attacked the same way you were at first, or have pitchers adjusted in how they’re going after you?

Henderson: “They’re making a little bit of an adjustment. I don’t want to give too much away, but yeah, they’ve kind of switched it up a little bit. I feel like I’ve made some adjustments back, and that I’m ready to get rolling again.”

Laurila: Is it mostly a matter of looking in different areas?

Henderson: “I’d say it’s being aware of how they’re trying to pitch you. If it’s one of your weaknesses, work on it in the cage and then be conscious of what they’re trying to do. Be aware of that and try to make the necessary adjustments quickly.”

Laurila: You just mentioned working in the cage. How do you train?

Henderson: “I found a good routine this year, and I’m sticking with that. I’m a big believer in this foam dimple baseball. It’s not heavy — it’s not hard enough to break your bat — but you can manipulate the machine to where it will carry like a hoppy fastball. You can also adjust it to where the ball will run or cut — whatever you want. I feel like that’s been a big thing for me. We started doing it in spring training and I loved it. I’ve worked with that pretty much every day since.”

Laurila: Do you know what’s coming, or is it like mix BP?

Henderson: “That one we know what’s coming, but we do mix BP as well. One of the coaches, like [Ryan] Fuller or Borgs [Matt Borgschulte] — and we have some hitting coordinators that roam around, too — will come in and throw everything. That’s something we’ve done ever since I got here… or I should say in 2020 when I went to the alt site, and when I went to instructs. Mix BP is the closest to a game rep without actually being in a game, so I do it all the time.”

Laurila: Last question: You’re 21 years old and started the season in Double-A. Just how how much fun is this?

Henderson: “It’s an awesome experience, especially being up here with some of the guys I’ve come through the minor leagues with. I mean, this is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I’ve prepared for this every day for a long time. Now that I’ve got up here… there’s really no pressure. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do.”

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Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Hunter Mense, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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therealryan1
1 month ago

His command of the strike zone is what has stood out to me the most. Obviously he’s driving the ball well and hasnt appeared overmatched, but this just makes us more excited for what Baltimores Player Dev can do.