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Baltimore Orioles

Orioles top prospect Gunnar Henderson still wants to prove himself entering spring training; 12 pitchers in rotation mix | NOTES

The situation Orioles infielder Gunnar Henderson will find himself in at spring training later this month is much different than in previous years.

After his call-up in late August last season, Henderson has since become not just the near-consensus top prospect in baseball but also an everyday player in the Orioles’ infield. The 21-year-old said Friday during the Orioles’ Birdland Caravan, a replacement for FanFest, that he doesn’t want his security on the roster and in the lineup to change how he approaches the spring.

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“It definitely takes a little pressure off, as if you’re trying to make the team,” Henderson said in between packing boxes of food at the Maryland Food Bank, the Orioles’ first stop on the tour Friday. “But I’m still going in there with that mindset of trying to make the team because I like being able to keep going out there and proving myself.”

Henderson played third base, shortstop and second base in his limited time last season, but he is likely to stick on the left side of the infield this year. He played 18 games at third base for the Orioles in 2022 versus just six at shortstop, with Jorge Mateo playing there almost every day. In the minors, Henderson played 133 games at shortstop and 83 at third.

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Orioles infielder Gunnar Henderson is interviewed after volunteering at the Maryland Food Bank on Friday morning. "I’m still going [into spring training] with that mindset of trying to make the team because I like being able to keep going out there and proving myself,” he said.

“I feel like it will be on the left side somewhere,” Henderson said. “I don’t know what position it’ll be, but just taking reps at both and whichever they put me at is where I’ll play.

“I don’t mind bouncing around. I feel like they both tie into each other really well, short and third. I enjoy it, but whichever they want to do is what I’ll do.”

Henderson appeared in 34 games last year, maintaining his rookie status for 2023. He is the betting favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year award.

The 2019 second-round draft pick slashed .259/.349/.440 with 18 RBIs in 2022, but one area he did struggle was against left-handed pitchers. Henderson, a left-handed hitter, went 3-for-26 with seven strikeouts against lefties, and he said that’s been an emphasis of his offseason training.

“I felt like I just needed to see it more,” Henderson said. “Going through a smaller high school, we didn’t really see many lefties, so just being able to see it and get my body used to it, I feel really confident against it now.”

Orioles volunteer at Maryland Food Bank

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde will have to sort through the roster to find the right 26 players for opening day, but they spent Friday morning doing a different kind of sorting.

Elias, Hyde and four Orioles players — Henderson, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and outfielders Kyle Stowers and Ryan McKenna — volunteered at the Maryland Food Bank in Halethorpe during the Birdland Caravan’s first stop of the day. The members of the Orioles spent the morning sorting items and packing boxes for distribution.

Maryland Food Bank volunteer Kate Murphy, left, helps Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle sort through items on a conveyor belt on Friday morning.

“It’s been really awesome to be able to give back to the community, just being here in Baltimore before the season and get some meals out to families in need,” Henderson said.

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The Orioles and the other volunteers on hand-packed 11,000 pounds of food for 9,166 meals. Maryland Food Bank president and CEO Carmen Del Guercio said the Orioles’ presence on Friday “continues to allow us to elevate the issue of food insecurity in our state.”

“One in three Marylanders are having a hard time making ends meet,” Del Guercio said. “Inflation is putting more and more pressure on families. So our ability to again continue to get that message out — that we continue to need help, both donations of food and dollars, to help us ensure that we get food out to our communities.”

The Birdland Caravan kicked off Thursday night with a rally at Bel Air High School, where fans had a question-and-answer session with Elias and Hyde. The caravan is the team’s first since 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic and the Major League Baseball lockout canceled the tours in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

12 pitchers competing for rotation spots

Before the Orioles went to the food bank Friday, Elias and Hyde held press conferences on the sixth floor of the B&O Warehouse at Camden Yards.

Elias said he was excited about the Orioles’ pitching depth going into spring training, adding that 12 pitchers will be competing for the five rotation spots. Two of those spots have essentially been locked up by Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin, the two starters Elias added this offseason. Gibson, a 10-year veteran, signed a $10 million contract with the Orioles, while Irvin was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.

Gibson and Irvin have combined to pitch 709 innings the last two seasons, while no one else on the team’s 40-man roster has pitched more than 126 frames in a single major league campaign.

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Therefore, the other 10 pitchers presumably competing for the remaining three spots are: Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Grayson Rodriguez, Tyler Wells, Austin Voth, Spenser Watkins, DL Hall, Bruce Zimmermann, Mike Baumann and Drew Rom. Pitchers like Bradish and Kremer, who had success with the Orioles last season, could have an easier path to the rotation than others on that list, but Elias said nothing is “set in stone” until the end of spring training.

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“The rest of the guys either weren’t in the rotation last year or were but only pitched 100-120 innings and were rookies,” Elias said. “Anytime that’s the case, I think you go back into spring training with a competition to get into the rotation.”

With such a logjam, Elias said the organization has considered a six-man rotation, although he said discussions about the starting pitchers now is under the assumption of a five-man group.

“With the 13-man pitching staff [rule], it sort of creates other problems because your bullpen is doing so much work,” Elias said. “I think that depends on the off days and things like that and maybe what the nature of the competition in camp shakes out like. We’ve certainly tossed that idea around…but we’re talking more about a five-man rotation right now.”

Spring training

Pitchers and catchers report: Feb. 15

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First full-squad workout: Feb. 21

Grapefruit League opener: Feb. 25 vs. Twins


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