THIRD BASE PROSPECT SPOTLIGHT: GUNNAR HENDERSON
Welcome to a continuation of our new Prospect Spotlight series, where we pair our prospect rankings with a deep dive on one of the players in that ranking. Here, we’ll dive deeper into the prospect’s fantasy profile, highlighting their background, skill set, and what we see for them coming down the pipeline. Prospects are the lifeblood of any dynasty league and we hope to bring you more great info on these rising stars in 2021 than ever before.
When the Orioles selected Gunnar Henderson with the 42nd pick in the 2019 draft, their second pick after Adley Rutschman, they knew they were getting an all-around superior athlete. It may not come as a surprise that a pick that high was the baseball player of the year in the state of Alabama, but Henderson was also the basketball player of the year. His senior year baseball season included a .559/.641/1.225 line with 11 HRs, 75 RBI, 69 runs … in 131 at-bats. He also stole 32 bases because if your name is Gunnar Henderson, you have no choice but to be quick. Fast enough to someday proclaim, “Today, I am the greatest of all time!” as another Henderson did seems unlikely, however.
After signing at an above-slot $2.3 million to pry him away from a commitment at the University of Auburn, Henderson has only been able to log a total of 108 official at-bats in the minor leagues thus far, all in the Gulf Coast League in late 2019. In 2020, however, Henderson played plenty of baseball at all of the available stops, including alternate site Bowie as part of the 60-man pool, and then Sarasota for the Fall Instructional League. Having turned only 19 in June, Henderson took it all in stride and used it as a learning experience to be around such advanced prospects, specifically gravitating towards the catchers, as well as having access to upper-level minor league coaching.
Toolbox (most frequently reported rankings on a 20-80 scale)
With his long arms and a smooth swing from the left side, it’s easy to see on video how cleanly Henderson is able to make contact with great bat control, using all fields. In this clip, the contact made at 0:55 and 1:30 shows easy contact the other way. This checks out with his opposite-field double down the left-field line against a 98 MPH DL Hall fastball at minor league camp in 2020.
Per Prospects Live, Henderson possesses above-average raw power in batting practice, which may not show in games early on but should show up in-game power as he gets stronger. He has a natural uppercut swing to go with his big frame at 6’3″ 195 lbs., and generates “significant power from a quick, direct swing.”
“A base stealer who is smart enough to pick his spots and know pitcher’s patterns” is the first good sign to see when looking at Henderson through a fantasy baseball lens. He does not have blazing speed, so don’t let those high school stolen base numbers fool you, but instincts should at least give some contribution in the category.
Although it seems up in the air whether Henderson will play shortstop or third base at the major league level, early reports are that the skills are there to play short long-term. Advanced instincts, balanced, athletic, versatile, and light on his feet are all descriptions seen within multiple scouting reports. Orioles director of player development Matt Blood noted that Henderson contributed at all positions in 2020, except for pitcher, catcher, and right field.
Henderson’s highest rating across the board is his arm, with the strength to make “every throw” with numerous reports on his advanced double play abilities. Though we ranked him at third base this year, and the situation within organizations can always be fluid, I have confidence that what I have seen with his fielding will lead to shortstop eligibility in the big leagues.
Henderson: “Being able to see these [upper-level] guys, the pitching and the harder ground balls hit, I feel like it helped my development that much more.” (Press Box Online)
Henderson: “Just being able to talk to all the Double-A and Triple-A coaches really helps a lot — learning stuff that I can develop into my routine to get better for games and also further my game defensively and offensively.” (Press Box Online)
Henderson: “Being able to see these guys and adjust to them, I’ve enjoyed the challenge and I feel like I can hang with them.” (Press Box Online)
Matt Blood (Orioles Director of Player Development): “I saw tremendous growth at a rapid pace,” Blood said. “He came in seemingly young and overmatched to the alternate site, yet he had a mature and determined demeanor about him. He caught up pretty quick to the competition he was facing, which was higher level, impressive arms. He fit right in, and by the last three weeks of it, he was one of the best players there.” (Baltimorebaseball.com)
Matt Blood: “He was one of the youngest players there, and he looked like one of the veterans, very competitive at-bats. He’s the kind of guy that the other players notice and want to be like and want to be around. He’s a great person and a great player and has a great work ethic.” (Baltimorebaseball.com)
Henderson is a player that I can’t wait to get a look at during a full season. With his fielding being most impressive, Henderson may rank higher on real-life prospect rankings than in the fantasy community, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be relevant in that sense. Above-average defensive players get playing time as long as they’re not completely useless with the stick, and there are no accounts of that being the case with Henderson. If your league rosters 200 prospects, you may see him available in upcoming minor league player drafts, but by all accounts, a lot of strides were made at the alternate site and instructional league appearances in 2020. With an ETA of 2023-2024, now is the time to snag Henderson on the ground floor.