Gunnar Henderson, standing on the field before Sunday’s game at Camden Yards, didn’t have the answer. How does he define himself as a hitter? Henderson knows who he wants to be, but is he there yet?

“We’re still only a year and a half — er, getting close to two years in,” Henderson said.

In reality, the 22-year-old isn’t particularly close to two full seasons as a major leaguer yet. Henderson is about two months into his second full season with the Orioles, but he is showing exactly who he is at the plate, even if he’s reluctant to admit it out of modesty.

And it’s exactly who he wants to be.

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There’s his plate discipline and his up-the-middle and other-way approach. He can beat out infield singles as frequently as he can split the outfield gap. And then there’s his power — the baseball-shredding, neck-straining power that has elevated Henderson a step.

He’s neither a slugger nor a contact hitter. Henderson is an all-around batter who is showing no signs of slowing.

“He kind of skipped the whole ‘I’m going to be OK at Major League Baseball’ and went straight for ‘I’m going to be one of the best players in Major League Baseball,’” outfielder Kyle Stowers said. “You’re just seeing him pick up where he left off, and you see the confidence he’s playing with. Man, he just competes and it’s fun to watch.”

Henderson showed plenty of this all-around ability last season when he recovered from a slow start to win the American League Rookie of the Year award. He clubbed 28 homers and swiped 10 bags, while hitting .255.

He’s on pace for much greater heights this season. Henderson went deep for a 15th time during Sunday’s victory against the Seattle Mariners, leaving the yard with his fifth leadoff homer. He is tied with Kyle Tucker of the Houston Astros for the major league lead.

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Manager Brandon Hyde keeps him in that leadoff spot despite his power barrage to maximize the number of plate appearances Henderson sees per game, and why not?

If Henderson continues on this pace, he will finish with 55 homers. That would surpass Chris Davis’ single-season franchise record of 53 in 2013.

That isn’t Henderson’s focus, however, even though Sunday was his third straight game with a homer.

“I know I can hit home runs with the best of them,” Henderson said, “but at the same time, I can also hit for average, I feel like.”

Baltimore Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson (2) takes an at-bat during game three of a series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Camden Yards on April 14, 2024. The Orioles beat the Brewers, 6-4, to avoid getting swept in the series.
Henderson is on pace for 55 home runs this season. The club record is 53. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

None of his homers was more impressive than the ninth-inning solo shot he thundered the opposite way Saturday night. Few left-handed hitters, even in batting practice, can hit a ball out to left field at Camden Yards. The monstrous (and deep) fence in that area of the park holds plenty of pull-side hitters within the boundary, and yet Henderson barreled a 98.5-mph fastball from right-hander Andrés Muñoz 410 feet and over the wall.

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In doing so, Henderson became just the third left-handed hitter to homer to left field at Camden Yards since the wall renovation, joining the Los Angeles Dodgers’ James Outman and teammate Adley Rutschman.

It left teammate Ryan O’Hearn with a one-word reaction when he saw the ball clear: “Wow.”

“It almost felt like a no-doubter off the bat, which is pretty crazy,” Stowers added.

“That might’ve been the most impressive one, especially off a 100-mph fastball that [Muñoz is] throwing,” co-hitting coach Matt Borgschulte said. “He just continues to get better, which is an exciting thing for this team.”

Stowers, who has played near Henderson since they were at the 2020 alternate training site, has seen Henderson experience a massive jump in one category or another every year since. This year, it’s Henderson’s power that has taken the largest jump, which “just felt like a matter of time,” Stowers said.

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Mainly, Henderson credits the work he’s done on his plate approach rather than any increased focus to hit more homers. That’s an area Henderson is still developing — to go into every at-bat seeking out a certain pitch.

“Going up there with a really set plan. That’s just something that’s going to develop over the course of my career, and I feel I can do a little bit better job of that,” Henderson said. “There might be days you don’t feel good on one type of pitch; there might be days you feel really good on one pitch. Just going out there and trying to be really locked in on what I feel I can do that day.”

“He just continues to get better, which is an exciting thing for this team.”

Orioles co-hitting coach Matt Borgschulte

But he can’t discount the value of comfort, either. Last year, when Henderson struggled early in the season (hitting .170 33 games into it), much of that was because of self-imposed pressure. Henderson “didn’t feel like I had to go out there and essentially prove myself” during spring training this year, and he isn’t fearing for his roster spot in May. Instead, he’s mashing.

Henderson’s average exit velocity of 94.1 mph is the ninth fastest across baseball. His hard-hit rate of 56.8% is the seventh best. His .598 slugging percentage is the fourth best, and Henderson’s .946 on-base-plus-slugging percentage is the ninth best.

So what kind of hitter is Henderson? He’s a do-it-all batter, one who doesn’t rely on the long ball but has the power to hack it as well as anyone in the game.

“He’s obviously a freak,” O’Hearn said. “I think, in my opinion, he’s got the potential to be one of — if not the — best players in the game. That’s a tall order, and that’s a lot of potential pressure, but I just think his gifts and his abilities are of that caliber.”