Baltimore Orioles top prospect Gunnar Henderson promoted from minors, hits HR in MLB debut

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 Wednesday night in a 4-0 win 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.

"That ball was hit," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. "It was loud. A no-doubter off the bat. Our dugout exploded. The helmet didn't get out of the batter's box."

Henderson also singled in the ninth and went 2-for-4. He said losing his helmet is a common occurrence.

"Every time I swing it comes off," he said. "We tried them all. That was the closest one. I guess I got too much hair going."

A second-round draft selection in 2019, Henderson recently was ranked as baseball's No. 2 overall prospect by ESPN's Kiley McDaniel. Henderson batted .297 in 112 games this season between Norfolk and Double-A Bowie with 19 home runs, 76 RBIs and 22 stolen bases.

Catcher Adley Rutschman, another rookie who has helped vault the Orioles into contention, hugged Henderson on the top step of the dugout and placed the Orioles' home run chain around Henderson's neck.

"He just looked at me," Henderson said. "It was kind of a surreal moment. I've been able to come up through the minor leagues with him and watch his career. To be able to do that up here with him was pretty awesome."

Henderson's parents, girlfriend and other relatives exchanged hugs and high-fives as he rounded the bases. Henderson said he called them when he got the news so they could be in attendance along with other family members.

"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."

Henderson was told of his promotion following Norfolk's game on Tuesday night, which led to day of travel and adjusting to his new surroundings.

"I didn't feel any nerves today," he said. "It could have been I got about 45 minutes' sleep last night."

Henderson primarily played shortstop in the minors, but the he was moved around the infield at Norfolk to increase his versatility. He played third base and batted sixth Wednesday.

"I'll play him at multiple spots in the infield," 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."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.