CLEVELAND — Gunnar Henderson quickly turned his major league debut into a success.
Henderson, called up by the Baltimore Orioles earlier in the day, homered in the fourth inning against the Cleveland Guardians. The 21-year-old hit a 2-2 pitch from Cleveland’s Triston McKenzie an estimated 429 feet to right-center field for his first big league hit.
Henderson’s helmet fell off as he rounded the bases. He looked to the sky after crossing home plate and was greeted at the top step of the dugout by teammates, who placed the Orioles’ home run chain around his neck.
Henderson, the game’s No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America, joins a Baltimore team that entered Wednesday three games out of the final wild card in the American League. A year after losing 110 games, the Orioles have been ahead of schedule in their rebuild, thanks in part to another top prospect, catcher Adley Rutschman.
Rutschman, the top pick in the 2019 draft, arrived in the majors earlier this season. Henderson was a second-round draft pick that same year. His stock has risen significantly this season. The 21-year-old shortstop hit 11 home runs in 65 games at Triple-A Norfolk.
Henderson said he called his parents and his girlfriend when he got the news so they could be in attendance along with other family members for Wednesday night’s game against the Guardians.
“My goal was to make it to the big leagues and send my girlfriend a text before the end of the year telling her I made it,” Henderson said. “She has the text. That was pretty cool to accomplish that, but the road is just now starting.”
The Orioles could use a boost offensively after being held to one hit in a loss to the Guardians on Tuesday night. Shortstop Jorge Mateo has 12 homers this year and has made some sparkling plays with the glove, but Henderson spent at least some time at every infield position while with Norfolk.
Henderson got the start at third base against Cleveland, batting sixth. He fouled out in his first at-bat.
“I’ll play him at multiple spots in the infield,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s something he’s been preparing for in Norfolk. Getting some reps at second base, shortstop, third base. We’re excited to have him.”
The 21-year-old Henderson tried to not get caught up in the hype that goes with being considered a top prospect as he progressed through the minor leagues.
“Just growing up my family really instilled, don’t let the outside noise get to you,” he said. “All throughout pro ball I felt like I had done a good job tuning that out.”
In addition to selecting Henderson’s contract, the Orioles also signed first baseman Jesus Aguilar to a minor league contract and added him to the major league taxi squad. The 32-year-old Aguilar was designated for assignment last week by the Miami Marlins. He hit .236 with 15 home runs for them this year.