The Orioles’ put an emphasis on up-the-middle talent on the opening night of the MLB draft, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the talent will stay there.
After selecting Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the first overall pick Monday, the Orioles used the first selection of the second round and 42nd overall on Gunnar Henderson, a shortstop out of John T. Morgan Academy in Alabama. They used their final pick of the night, No. 71 overall, on Stanford outfielder Kyle Stowers in the Competitive Balance B round.
Mike Elias, overseeing his first draft with the organization since becoming its executive vice president/general manager, said it’s possible Henderson profiles better as a third baseman, while Stowers’ bat would still play as a corner outfielder.
Henderson, an Auburn commit, was also the Alabama Independent School Association’s basketball player of the year, averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds. But both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America had Henderson, who turns 18 later this month, ranked as a top-30 draft prospect with a left-handed swing that produced a bevy of gap-to-gap hard contact while playing as an above-average runner.
Gatorade's 2019 Alabama high school player of the year, Henderson could prove to have the ability to stay at shortstop, but his 6-foot-3 frame could develop to the point a move to third base makes sense.
“It's nice when people start their amateur careers up the middle,” Elias said. “It usually speaks well to just their abilities going forward, and they have some options. Gunnar Henderson is very athletic and he can run, but he's a big guy. So there exists a possibility that he grows in such a way that he moves to third, but the important thing is we think his profile still holds up at third.
“He's got plus power, and he hits well, and it's still a third base profile, but if he ends up staying at shortstop, I think that would be icing on the cake."
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Given his projections as a potential first-round pick and his commitment to a Southeastern Conference school, Henderson could prove to be a difficult player to sign, but Elias said he was confident in the Orioles’ ability to do so. The 42nd overall pick has a slot value of $1,771,100, and the No. 71 pick’s slot value is $884,200. Overall, the Orioles have the second-largest bonus pool.
“He's a high-profile kid, and I'm sure they would love for him to show up at Auburn, but I'm reasonably confident we're gonna be able to make a good run at him,” Elias said. “We have a great opportunity here for a talented, high-upside young infielder like him, and so, hopefully, it works out."
Stowers, 21, entered Monday with eight home runs among 27 extra-base hits, 13 steals in 17 tries, a 22-to-28 walk-to-strikeout ratio and a .306 average as the Cardinal’s center fielder. Elias said Stowers’ performance in the Cape Cod League last summer, when he hit .326/.361/.565, helped him rise up draft boards.
"The important thing in terms of his defensive home is we feel that the bat will move around to other outfield spots if he's not playing center field,” Elias said. “It's a strong profile whether he ends up in center or somewhere else. He’s just a really good all-around player."
The draft resumes at 1 p.m. Tuesday with rounds 3-10.