The appetizer for what could be a campaign that ends with the American League Rookie of the Year award? The Most Valuable Oriole award.
Gunnar Henderson is the second straight rookie to win the honor, receiving the most votes from local media members. He takes home the award on the back of a season in which he holds 4.7 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs, and is hitting .257 with an .818 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
“The history of the O’s, just being up there with all those guys like [Cal] Ripken, [Brooks] Robinson and the list goes on is just really special,” Henderson said. “And to do it in the first year is really awesome as well.”
Henderson is the fourth rookie to win the award since it began in 1954. The third baseman joins closer Gregg Olson in 1989, starting pitcher Rodrigo López in 2002 and catcher Adley Rutschman in 2022. Rutschman also received votes on media members’ ballots this year.
“I saw how physical he was out of the draft, and in instructional league I saw how the ball came off the bat,” manager Brandon Hyde said of his introduction to Henderson. “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.”
Scout Dave Jennings, who is credited with signing Henderson, recalled how he had an idea Henderson could be a quality player at 16. He coached Henderson at an East Coast high school showcase, and “you could tell he was a special kid.”
“Thought for sure he’d get there at some point,” Jennings said of Henderson reaching this level. “I don’t know if 22 was when I thought he was going to do it. But there was always a sign that he was going to be a guy.”
Additionally, infielder Jackson Holliday was named Baltimore’s minor league player of the year, which seemed like a given considering he took home Baseball America’s minor league player of the year award for the entire country this week. Henderson won Baseball America’s top minor league player award in 2022 — creating a sense of continuity with a farm system that is ranked atop the league.
“This is a kid who’s going to be an impact big leaguer for a long time. A long time,” Triple-A Norfolk manager Buck Britton said. “This kid’s determined, man. This kid’s determined to be in the big leagues yesterday.”
Right-hander Chayce McDermott was named the Orioles’ minor league pitcher of the year; Britton and Jennings will also be honored for their contributions.
Holliday, McDermott and Britton are with Norfolk in Las Vegas for the Triple-A national championship game Saturday night. It’s a single-game challenge rather than a series to crown the winner.
Holliday’s selection comes after he hit .323 across four minor league levels. On Thursday, Holliday hit a homer for the Tides as part of a rout of the Durham Bulls, booking Norfolk’s trip to Las Vegas.
“I haven’t felt overmatched not one time this year, so I think that’s a positive,” Holliday said via Zoom. “It’s just felt pretty easy and like I belong here.”
Holliday said his goal is to break with the major league club out of spring training next year.
“Last year spring training was awesome and such an unbelievable experience. I don’t think I’d be here without it,” Holliday said. “It’s definitely going to be a little bit different next year, having the chance to hopefully make the club out of spring is my goal, and if that doesn’t happen, then whatever is the plan I’ll be ready for.”
McDermott, who joined the organization last year as part of the trade that sent Trey Mancini to the Houston Astros, holds a 3.10 ERA across two levels of the minors. McDermott said he simplified his approach, finding ways to record outs earlier in the count by staying in the strike zone more.
“I think people overlook sometimes, getting traded is very hard,” McDermott said. “You get used to an organization, and then you gotta pick up and move and meet new people, new coaches, all that kind of stuff. But I feel like it was a super smooth transition. It was super easy. I’ve loved everybody in the Orioles organization, and they’ve been super helpful to my career.”
Britton orchestrated Norfolk’s stellar season and Jennings, who will be recognized on the field ahead of Saturday’s game against the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards, earned his honor as the scout who signed Henderson, Jordan Westburg and others.