‘Yeah, this guy is different’: When the Orioles knew Gunnar Henderson was special

This season has proven the baseball world how particular Gunnar Henderson is. The Orioles have recognized it quite a bit longer.

Saturday, Henderson was named the Most Valuable Oriole, solely the fourth rookie to win the award within the membership’s 70 years in Baltimore. In November, the 22-year-old is predicted to be deemed the American League Rookie of the Year, Baltimore’s first such honoree since 1989. Between, he’ll get the possibility to shine on the nationwide stage of the MLB playoffs, having performed a key position for the AL East champions.

What makes Henderson stand out goes past his .257 batting common, .817 OPS, 28 homers or 82 RBIs. The Baltimore Sun requested Henderson’s teammates, coaches and even his signing scout once they knew he was a particular participant. Here’s what they stated.

2018 highschool showcase

Scout Dave Jennings:

“Yeah, the first time was at an East Coast Pro high school showcase type deal we have down south. I was one of the coaches on that club and just being around him, you could tell he was a special kid. This was, like, 16 years old, and guys gravitated towards him. He was kind of a leader, and, yeah, it worked out great.”

2020 alternate coaching web site

Triple-A Norfolk supervisor Buck Britton:

“Gunnar confirmed as much as the alt web site throughout the COVID season, I consider he was 19 years outdated on the time, and he was there taking at-bats towards guys that had pitched within the large leagues, guys that had been going up and down within the large leagues, and he struggled. He struggled for a few weeks. And then, one thing clicked for Gunnar. By the time the camp was over, or the season was over, Gunnar was one of the best participant in that camp. And I feel that was the second. … He cares, he performs with ardour and he trains with ardour. He does the identical issues when he’s coaching. But that’s undoubtedly a second the place I feel — not solely myself, however all people that was there and within the group — was like, ‘Wow, I think we have a chance to have a really special player here.’

Starter Grayson Rodriguez:

“Yeah, that’ve been in 2020 during COVID at the alt site. Me, DL, [Hall] Adley [Rutschman] and Gunnar got to spend a lot of time together there that summer. We were the four youngest guys there. Having to go up against each other every outing, every few days. Gunnar kind of got off to a slow start. He was only 18 or 19 years old at the time. Just the way he handled that, and then by the end of the alt site he was hitting the baseball really well. That was pretty impressive to see that, him hitting big league pitchers during that time being so young. When we finally got back to normal there, the minor league season in 2021, he started flying through the system. It was just a whirlwind, but definitely then in 2020 is the first time I knew, and it’s been really special watching him play this year.”

Starter Dean Kremer:

“2020. Without a question. At the alternate site. For the first half of the alternate site, he struggled. I mean, that was his first time facing older guys — not guys that lit up the radar gun, guys who knew how to pitch. That was his first taste of that. Every day at the alternate site, he would go back to the dugout every day struggling. And then about the halfway point, maybe a little bit after the halfway point, he started catching on to how guys were pitching him, noticing where his holes were and what not, and he just started unloading on everybody. That was kind of the moment where it was like, ‘Alright, he’s the real deal.’ He was competing against guys with service time, guys with a lot of experience pitching in the minor leagues at the highest level, Double-A, Triple-A, a lot of Four-A guys. … That was the eye-opening moment.”

Reliever DL Hall:

“Probably at alt web site in ‘20 was the biggest thing. Him being 18 or 19 years old, however old he was then, he came into camp and facing him the first couple of times, obviously, he’s a 19-year-old, he’s going to wrestle just a little bit. He was going through myself and Grayson and [Kyle] Bradish and all of us each day, Dean. He was most likely one of many simpler outs at first of the camp, when he first obtained there, after which I simply keep in mind as camp went on, he obtained higher and higher, after which by the top of camp, he’s one of many hardest guys to get out. … I had two strikes on him and this was after I hit 102 [mph] — it was 101.8 — and he fouled it off, and I used to be like, ‘Holy cow, how did he get to that?’ That’s fairly robust to get to, and when he fouled it off, it was like, ‘This kid’s fairly good.’

Co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller:

“I go back to the alt site in 2020 during COVID. 18-year-old kid competing against Triple-A, big league guys. He struggled at the beginning, but as each month went along, his training in the cage, competing in scrimmages every single day, you saw that he can compete at a very, very high level. … At the time, it was disappointing to lose the season, but now you look back and you see it as a blessing. We got to be, the player development staff, be together for three-to-four months and only focus on pure development. We weren’t worried about winning or losing ball games. … For Gunnar, for Adley, for the coaching staff, for the coaching staff for the culture we were able to implement there, it was a huge blessing. I think for Gunnar it really helped propel him to compete against higher-level guys earlier in his career than he would have if it were a normal year.”

2020 educational league

Manager Brandon Hyde:

“I saw how physical he was out of the draft, and then instructional league, you saw how the ball came off the bat. It’s a little looser now, but you could see the frame, too, that he was going to grow — he’s going to continue to grow, too — and how strong he was at 17, 18, whatever he was. And then I think it was a couple of spring trainings ago, where a ball came off his bat, I saw the arm at short, I thought in time, he’s got a chance to be really good. I didn’t know it was gonna happen this fast.”

Infielder Jordan Westburg:

“From the moment I met him at 2020 instructs. Coming into the organization, I heard all the hype, and I know he hadn’t played a full professional season at that point in time. Neither had I, so there’s really nothing to base that on, but just getting to spend time with him there and see his makeup and kind of see the work ethic. Baseball is a tough sport. Sometimes, it doesn’t click, but it was almost inevitable that it does click and turns into what he’s doing right now. … I got to see who he was, got to see his makeup, got to see the work ethic, got to see how bad he wants to be good, how bad he wants to compete. You can’t say that about a ton of guys that young who have yet to play a full season of professional baseball. I’m sure there was doubts and worry and a bunch of unknown that he was going into, but at the time, I was almost like, ‘OK, this is somebody that I could look up to,’ just coming into the organization, which is weird to say because he’s younger, and I know it didn’t necessarily work out that way at the beginning. I think he might have been looking up to me once we started playing together that next year, whatever the case was, but for me to be like, ‘Man, this 19-year-old is somebody I want to replicate my game after,’ I’m not saying that lightly.”

Late 2022

Reliever Yennier Cano:

“Since last year when I got traded [to the Orioles]. Spending time with him in Triple-A, that’s when I really started to get to see him and get to know him. I think then was when I started to realize. [Norfolk bullpen catcher Pedro Perez] told me, ‘He’s gonna be a superstar one day,’ and I started to get to watch him a little bit, and I was like, ‘Sure enough, he definitely might be.’ I think this year, he’s done just that, and I think he’s built up his case for Rookie of the Year with the way he’s played out there.”

Infielder Ramón Urías:

“Since he got here when he was 21 years old. Since that day. I mean, it’s not easy getting here at that age and being that mature. He’s super talented. He does things that other players aren’t able to do. He’s got all the tools. He’s really, really special.”

Reliever Tyler Wells:

“I think it was pretty evident pretty early on with him because of the standard that he holds himself to. I know, for myself, I hold myself to an extremely high standard, and that frustration that you get whenever you don’t live up to that is something that I see in him. He puts himself at such a high pedestal that whenever he doesn’t reach that, it’s frustrating, but it’s also very motivating for him, and he continues to work really, really hard. I think that’s something that you just see in his game play, his glove, his base running, his hitting. It didn’t take long to realize that he was a pretty special player.”

Starter John Means:

“Probably last year. He had such a good approach. He didn’t have any fear in his eyes. He was just ready. He came up ready to go and kind of knew what he needed to do. He’s a special player, and he’s got everything you could ask for.”

Outfielder Austin Hays:

“Honestly, last year in September when he came up. Some of those oppo home runs he was hitting, you don’t see that very often, especially a guy that’s that young, being able to just pummel balls out to the opposite field. It seemed like he had that early on, and during the course of this year — I hadn’t really played with him in the minor leagues, so I’m not really sure if this is accurate or not, but just to me, it looks like this year, he has just come a long way with pulling the ball, being able to pull the ball in the air. Last year, he was just driving the ball the other way. But early on this year, he had his struggles, just like anybody does, but I think the adjustment that he made was being able to really do damage to the pull side of the field.”

2023 breakout

First baseman Ryan O’Hearn:

“There was a day in spring training, I think we were playing the Phillies, and he dove into the hole [at shortstop], popped up and threw an absolute laser to me at first. I was like, ‘Wow, not many guys make that play.’ I think that same game he hit a homer and a double and just balled out. I remember leaving the field that day saying, ‘Yeah, this guy is different.’ It’s been pretty incredible watching him do his thing, and he’s special for sure.”

Reliever Danny Coulombe:

“The first time I saw him. I compare him a lot — I came up with [Texas Rangers All-Star] Corey Seager, every level, and just the build is pretty similar to him, the swing is very similar to him. I think the thing that makes him so unique, too, is he’s not only big and plays good defense, but he’s also fast. Seager didn’t have that, but that just shows you how special of a player he is.”

Starter Kyle Gibson:

“How he handled early-season struggle and how he kept playing hard, I think, was a really good look into it. Might sound weird, but I think we all can either learn a lot about ourselves or we all can learn a lot about other people when you see them going through their hardest time. And he was the same player every single day. He kept working hard. And you could tell that mentally, he wasn’t going to be fazed by the slow start. I think as I saw him get more and more comfortable defensively, you started to see how special and how much he can affect the game on that side of the field. And then I always saw just how he took his at-bats early on, and you just kind of knew that anybody that had that type of approach, it’s just a matter of time.”

Co-hitting coach Matt Borgschulte:

“The moment I thought there was something really special about this kid was the home run in Boston, dead center. That was just a bomb. You don’t see a lot of guys swing the bat like that. That was something that really caught my eye. Just this season, the work that he puts in, the adjustments that we was able to make after the first month and having a little bit of a rough stretch was really, really impressive. You could tell by the way that he works, he doesn’t want to just be the best player on the team. He wants to be the best player in the league.”

Catcher James McCann:

“I don’t know if there was one specific thing. It was more just watching him during spring training. And then the beginning of the year he started off slow as far as getting hits and whatever. But I remember I had a conversation with him about how not to panic and let it ride. You could tell he was getting a little frustrated. I was like, ‘Man, you’re still getting on base. You’re walking. You’re having an impact. Let it ride.’ I remember that night he hit a home run, and I just remember him still impacting games early in the season even when he wasn’t getting two or three hits and driving in runs. When a young player’s able to have that mindset, that’s when it was really impressive. Obviously, there’s a lot of good players in the league. You can have your Rookie of the Year favorite, but you never know until it plays out over the course of six months. What this guy’s done over the course of six months is incredible. The easiest sentence possible: He’s hands down the Rookie of the Year.”

Second baseman Adam Frazier:

“I wouldn’t say one moment, just watching the culmination of everything — the arm strength, the athleticism, the swing itself. I saw him from a distance last year making some highlight plays and you hear everything that comes with him, so you’re kind of on the lookout already. As the season’s gone on, he’s gotten more comfortable, more confident and everything else. The plays he makes night after night, it’s like, ‘Dang.’ I’d say it’s a culmination of everything. It’s been a lot of fun to watch him grow. That’s kind of why I was brought in, to help him grow, one reason I guess. Sharing a locker next to him, getting to see the evolution throughout the year, the confidence, and getting to relax a little bit when he started performing a little bit. We’ve seen him take off on the field when he took a breath. It’s been a lot of fun.”