The Orioles Are Now Gunnaring for a Wild Card Spot

Gunnar Henderson
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles showed mercy to minor league pitchers this week, officially calling up infielder Gunnar Henderson, relieving those hurlers of the terrible burden of having to pitch to him. The team’s top prospect wasted little time making his impact felt, hitting his first major league home run in his second time up at the plate, a long drive off Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie. And if the ZiPS projections are to be believed, adding Henderson down the stretch is about as valuable an offensive boost as anyone made this summer, with the obvious exception of a certain southern California team sporting mustard-and-brown colors.

So just how good is Henderson? That’s a question that has shifted notably over the course of the minor league season. If you go back to the winter, he was considered an excellent prospect, ranking 66th in the FanGraphs Top 100 list and 53rd in the ZiPS Top 100. We weren’t outliers, either; among others, Keith Law at The Athletic and Baseball Prospectus also put him in their top 100s.

Henderson’s stock wasn’t poorly valued, but it shot up so quickly this year that you might think that it was a Reddit meme stonk like GameStop and AMC. Minor league translation printer goes brrr! Before the season, ZiPS only projected Henderson to amass 1.5 WAR in 2023 with a wRC+ of 87. We’ll get to that updated 2023 projection in a minute; let’s just say for now that it’s better.

The improvements made by Henderson in the minors this year were across the board, from power to plate discipline to defense. Combining his performances for Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, you get an overall line of .297/.416/.531 with 19 homers and 22 stolen bases in 112 games. That would be enough to make him the best first base prospect in baseball, considering he didn’t turn 21 until late June, but as a player who can legitimately play shortstop, that’s the kind of performance that puts you in the ultra-elite category.

ZiPS translates Henderson’s 2022 overall at .266/.361/.468. How rare are numbers like that? Let’s dip into the database and look at the other (non-1B) infielders throughout minor league history (back to 1950) and find the top minor league seasons by translated OPS+ in seasons of 300 plate appearances or more:

Top ZiPS Translations for Young Infielders (Min. 300 PA)
Player Year BA OBP SLG OPS+
Bobby Grich 1971 .282 .369 .485 154
Gary Redus 1978 .314 .384 .491 153
Tommy Harper 1962 .302 .407 .494 147
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 2018 .328 .380 .533 145
George Scott 1965 .305 .354 .525 144
Mookie Betts 2014 .316 .391 .463 140
Glenn Hubbard 1978 .333 .388 .511 140
Steve Garvey 1969 .313 .333 .459 139
Darrell Evans 1969 .293 .367 .452 137
Miguel Cabrera 2003 .307 .358 .499 137
Willie Randolph 1975 .318 .374 .440 136
Tim Raines 1980 .316 .381 .431 135
Kris Bryant 2014 .265 .361 .496 135
Hector Cruz 1975 .274 .348 .495 135
Brett Lawrie 2011 .293 .352 .536 135
Darnell Coles 1984 .270 .362 .488 134
Gunnar Henderson 2022 .266 .361 .468 134
Carl Yastrzemski 1959 .314 .380 .454 133
David Wright 2004 .293 .380 .496 133
Jim Thome 1993 .292 .391 .470 131
Gregg Jefferies 1987 .298 .347 .465 131
Rennie Stennett 1971 .312 .354 .426 131
Bill Madlock 1973 .297 .354 .455 130
Kal Segrist 1952 .250 .356 .394 130
Jose Altuve 2011 .327 .358 .476 129
Joe Morgan 1964 .269 .362 .403 129
Alex Bregman 2016 .266 .354 .481 128
Danny Tartabull 1981 .264 .352 .439 128
Hal McRae 1968 .269 .304 .460 128
Mike Schmidt 1972 .246 .346 .439 125

That’s quite a list of names, including some players you might not immediately associate with playing the infield, like Raines and Yastrzemski. Only two players in this top 30 played shortstop most frequently in their year: Henderson and Bregman. So naturally, Henderson looks even more imposing if we limit it to just shortstops!

Top ZiPS Translations for Young Shortstops (Min. 300 PA)
Player Year BA OBP SLG OPS+
Gunnar Henderson 2022 .266 .361 .468 134
Alex Bregman 2016 .266 .354 .481 128
Javier Báez 2015 .292 .349 .473 123
Gavin Lux 2019 .296 .353 .494 121
Don Buddin 1953 .273 .337 .452 115
Eric Soderholm 1968 .239 .284 .406 114
Corey Seager 2014 .271 .312 .447 114
Ian Kinsler 2004 .302 .371 .488 111
Bobby Murcer 1965 .270 .317 .404 111
Mark Reynolds 2006 .266 .335 .513 109
Trea Turner 2015 .285 .328 .409 107
Tony Kubek 1956 .291 .327 .392 104
Carter Kieboom 2019 .277 .366 .435 103
Jhonny Peralta 2004 .292 .345 .426 103
B.J. Upton 2004 .269 .354 .403 103
Tony Fernandez 1981 .291 .357 .378 103
D’Angelo Jimenez 1999 .287 .346 .405 102
Bo Bichette 2017 .290 .338 .435 101
Franklin Barreto 2017 .268 .313 .433 101
Luis Urías 2019 .248 .325 .436 100
Xander Bogaerts 2012 .264 .316 .439 100
Fernando Tatis Jr. 2018 .243 .304 .424 100
B.J. Upton 2005 .263 .342 .401 99
Denis Menke 1960 .241 .314 .397 99
Derek Jeter 1995 .294 .360 .384 98
Davey Johnson 1962 .243 .299 .380 98
Dustin Pedroia 2006 .293 .361 .413 98
Dave Cash 1967 .275 .323 .330 98
Kevin Elster 1987 .273 .310 .379 97
Tommy Whiteman 2001 .268 .316 .451 97

Now, ZiPS isn’t starting to carve Henderson’s Hall of Fame plaque or anything, but this represents a wonderful minor league season, no matter what position you consider him to be. So it’s hardly surprising to see him shoot up all the prospect lists very quickly this season; ZiPS would rank him as the best prospect in baseball today.

ZiPS Projection – Gunnar Henderson
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .255 .334 .440 557 93 142 25 6 22 95 66 165 12 109 5 3.3
2024 .264 .348 .475 541 96 143 27 6 25 101 69 154 11 121 6 4.2
2025 .264 .352 .490 545 99 144 28 7 27 106 73 161 11 126 6 4.6
2026 .263 .354 .491 544 100 143 27 8 27 107 76 166 10 127 6 4.6
2027 .261 .354 .495 541 100 141 27 8 28 108 78 165 11 128 6 4.8
2028 .258 .354 .494 534 100 138 26 8 28 107 79 167 11 128 6 4.7
2029 .255 .353 .490 518 96 132 25 8 27 103 78 163 11 127 5 4.4
2030 .256 .353 .490 504 93 129 24 8 26 99 75 152 10 126 4 4.3
2031 .257 .351 .492 486 89 125 23 8 25 96 70 140 9 126 4 4.0
2032 .255 .348 .479 466 83 119 21 7 23 89 66 129 9 122 3 3.5
2033 .254 .344 .465 445 76 113 20 7 20 81 60 117 8 118 2 3.0

Those are meatier projections than Adley Rutschman’s at this time last year, and that’s certainly not damning with faint praise!

It’s the kind of performance that makes you wonder if the O’s would have been better off calling Henderson up a month ago rather than yesterday. As of this moment, ZiPS projects the Orioles with a 14.5% chance of making the playoffs. Adding 0.7 wins, the amount ZiPS estimates he’d have added if he had been promoted after the All-Star break, doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but it’s enough to bump them to 19.1%. An extra win is always important in a pennant race, but the O’s need to win more games than their competition because of the tiebreak scenarios. They already lose on tiebreakers to the Mariners and Rays. Baltimore also loses a tie to the Twins, and while beating the Guardians tonight would tie them up at 3–3, Cleveland is 4 1/2 games ahead of the O’s in intradivision record, the second tiebreaker. The O’s only have secured a tiebreak with the White Sox and need to go better than 4-6 or better to get it on the Jays. [This has been edited as Dan flipped the O’s/Jays record initially -DS]

Regardless of where the Orioles end up in the standings, 2022 has been a successful season for them. By calling up Henderson, it’s been made even better.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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osfan94
24 days ago

To clarify, the O’s are currently 6-3 against the Jays this season, which means they’d only need to go 4-6 to retain the tiebreaker. That being said, a 4-6 record against the Jays probably means losing the wildcard spot anyway.