Gunnar Henderson had an idea. He and Joey Ortiz were working in the batting cage this offseason, the kind of run-of-the-mill process that could be monotonous for even a 20-year-old at the start of his professional baseball career.
“Hey, Joey,” Henderson signaled. “You want to play the horse game from the tee?”
Ortiz did not need to be repressed, setting up a friendly competition between the Orioles’ field prospects. That’s the nature of their relationship: They’re friends, but they’re also teammates who are pushing each other to the next level while keeping an eye on Baltimore.
For now, he is in Double-A Bowie, part of a stacked infield. During the pregame warmup before Bayox’s season opener at Prince George Stadium on Friday, Henderson, Ortiz and Jordan Westberg finished third, short and second to field grounders. In the future — a near future — that trio may be out together at Camden Yards.
as orioles season started their season The future faces of Baltimore began their season at Bowie, against the Tampa Bay Rays in Florida. They haven’t shied away from those lofty hopes, either—the idea that they could be a savior for a franchise stuck in a 100-loss season while constantly rebuilding from the ground up.
“If we can all come at the same time, the goal of winning the World Series, the last game of the season, is next,” said Westberg, 23, a first-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. “You don’t want to see it now because we’re in the opening day at Double-A. There’s no reason to put that pressure on yourself or even start thinking about it. But eventually, and as we start getting there, That should be our number 1 focus.
Before the arrival of executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, Baltimore’s farming system was devoid of mid-field talent. Adam Hall, a second-round draft pick in 2017, now looks at the crop of prospects around him and marvels.
According to Baseball America, Hall, 22, who started in center field on Friday despite his middle field experience, is the 27th best prospect in Baltimore’s organization. Bowie has more top players around him in Ortiz (No. 16), Westberg (No. 6) and Henderson (No. 4).
The influx of talent into the farming system in recent years has put pressure on them all. There are only so many places with the infield, which prompted Hall to head to the outfield on Friday. Henderson started short, Ortiz second and Westberg third. But all those players will rotate, which Westberg considers an advantage.
“We all have different skill sets,” Vestberg said. “We all realize this. We understand that all we can do to improve each other is push each other into practice, try to set the bar high.”
For Westberg, 20-year-old Henderson is the “young buck” of the group, still gaining experience on the fly. But Henderson may also have the most power among them all. Ortiz, 23, may be the group’s best defender, with Vestberg pretending he won’t be in the same position. And Westberg, despite a few swings and misses, believes his ability to spray the ball into all areas sets him apart.
It’s those different skills that help them stay friends while pushing them into the big leagues. They’re all hoping for an infield spot – and only one of them can play shortstop – but that versatility could bring them closer together at Oriole Park.
Bowie coaches lean into that competition, however, beyond what Henderson and Ortiz do on their own in the batting cage two to three times a week.
During spring training, prospects competed as to who could have the highest exhaust velocity on batted balls. He competed in the home run derby using plyo balls – a ball filled with sand made with a PVC shell. A foam ball machine threw them highly exaggerated breaking pitches.
“Infield guys, we’re around each other every day, and it’s great to have this bond,” Ortiz said. “The main thing I always say is: Gunnar and Vestberg are great, it’s definitely nice to be able to compete with them, because it only makes me better.”
In a video conference with reporters on Thursday, Elias said he believed Baltimore was “close to being back in the fight.” As he looks around the minors, the prospects cultivated through three 100-loss seasons in four years are closer to those of the big leagues. Once they arrive, they are expected to be ready to make an immediate impact.
This will be learned from the bottom up, when those players prove themselves and earn the requisite call-ups. But at least for now, even if those highly touted prospects are playing Bowie instead of Baltimore, their mind can’t help but wander to the horizon—and what they can accomplish once there. .
“We all know that together we can win a championship,” Henderson said. “We all have the right mindset in each game and each season. I think with the group coming up, we have a great chance to turn that around and get a championship back in the Orioles. ,