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Why the Orioles could promote arguably MLB frontrunner Gunner Henderson to a playoff spot

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The Baltimore Orioles entered the final American League wild-card spot by just 2.5 games in their scheduled day off Monday. The Orioles will resume the season on Tuesday, embarking on a nine-game stretch featuring three-game sets against the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Guardians. The Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Guardians are his two top contenders for the postseason spot, perhaps as well as the Houston Astros. AL’s top team. In other words, this will be his week pivotal to Baltimore’s playoff ambitions.

One way the Orioles can improve their chances of having a good week and reaching the postseason for the first time since 2016 is to call in 21-year-old infield prospect Gunnar Henderson. He spent most of the season in Triple-A, batting .289/.388/.520 with 11 home runs and 16 home runs in 58 games. Some scouts who told CBS Sports consider him a frontrunner for the minors.

There are already signs that the Orioles are considering promoting Henderson. General His manager Mike Elias recently told MASN Sports that Henderson “is in a position to be in a lot of conversations about the possibility of helping this team to the end.” The Orioles have also given Henderson a start at second base and first base this past week, likely improving his options ahead of a call-up.

There are two important dates to remember when it comes to Henderson’s promotion. He only has 44 days left in the season, so first is Tuesday. This is important. This is because a player cannot qualify for next year’s Rookie of the Year if that service time exceeds his mark. that is It’s important because if a player wins that award, the team gets a draft pick reward. Another is his September 1, when the roster expands to his 28-man for the rest of the regular season.

For some extra insight and perspective on why the Orioles could promote Henderson sooner or later, let’s take a look at three things you should know about that possibility.

1. Henderson may be the underage frontrunner

As mentioned in the introduction, CBS Sports spoke with talent evaluators who believe Henderson is currently the best player in the minors. Some put him behind Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder contender Corbyn Carroll. Either way, he’ll be contending for the number one spot on his list of prospects coming into the winter.

298/.388/.520 with 11 home runs in 58 Triple-A games. He impresses scouts with above average raw strength and defense. The Orioles have cross-trained him in the left-field infield position throughout his career, but scouts expect him to end up at third base in the long run.

If there’s an immediate concern with Henderson’s game, it’s his strikeout tendency. He’s been thrashed in more than a quarter of his moves to at-bat in Triple-A, and it seems unlikely that promotion will reduce that percentage. Henderson’s youth is why he’s optimistic about making the necessary adjustments over time, but there’s a difference between short-term and long-term considerations. The Orioles will ultimately have to decide if he has the potential to be productive over the next 41 games.

Whatever the Orioles decide in that regard, Henderson will remain a highly regarded prospect who looks like he has a bright future ahead of him.

2. Henderson adds depth and variety to the lineup

If the Orioles need to promote Henderson, how does he fit into the lineup? Manager Brandon Hyde has consistently started Jorge Mateo at shortstop and Ramon Urias at third base. This helps explain why the Orioles let Henderson play on the right side of the infield to pave an easier path to plate.

Second base seems like the most obvious position for Henderson to slot in. Rougned Odor’s .267 on-base percentage is his seventh-worst among players with 350-plus trips in the majors, and his 78 OPS+ is his worst in his full season since 2017. prize. If the Orioles prefer to keep Oder in the lineup for whatever reason, it’s probably not hard to see a rough sketch of the leadership, timeshare situation at first base.

Incumbent first baseman Ryan Mountcastle has a full season of 103 OPS+ and ranks 18th out of 25 eligible first basemen in FanGraphs’ wRC+ metric. He was more productive in his big league career when he had a platoon advantage, amassing 33 points better OPS against lefties. and has 1.000 OPS north for right handers. He also strikes out in his third of at-bats against same-handed pitchers.

Another option the Orioles could pursue is to ping-pong Henderson between second and first base, depending on the matchup. That way, if one of the three players is injured, he can keep all three players happy and engaged.

3. The Orioles face a tough road

The most important part of the Orioles’ calculus revolves around Henderson and his long-term growth. But more than that, they have to recognize the reality that he has the toughest schedule left of any AL contender.

According to the Baseball-Reference, the Orioles have a 62-58 game-to-game average, ranking third in the league. The only contender for a tougher schedule is the Tampa Bay Rays, who average opponents he beats by two, going 64-56.

The Seattle Mariners have taken the easiest path in the AL, suggesting it’s a surefire way to earn one of the three wildcard spots. That puts the Orioles against his two teams that failed to beat the AL Central (the Chicago White Sox have his second easiest schedule in the AL), and the Blue Jays. With the exception of the Rays, none of these teams has an average record higher than .500 for their opponents.

Of course, the strength of the schedule doesn’t always dictate playoff races, but on paper, the Orioles could use talent boosts to compensate for their disadvantage.