Having two shortstop prospects on the same roster and in the same lineup requires one consistent plan on how to handle their development.
Manager Kyle Moore experienced it with Double-A Bowie. Buck Britton is doing the same at Triple-A Norfolk.
Britton doesn’t have Joey Ortiz and Adam Hall to consider, but there’s still a pleasant excess.
Gunnar Henderson started at shortstop Tuesday night in Lehigh Valley and Jordan Westburg was his double play partner at second base. Last night’s lineup had Henderson at short again but Westburg switching to third base.
The Orioles have to make it work when pairing Henderson, the No. 3 prospect in the system, with Westburg, who’s sixth, according to MLBPipeline.com.
“They kind of give us, like, a player matrix every week, as to where they’d like guys to line up,” said Britton, who’s following the same system devised for Moore. “Obviously, throughout the week, things happen, where someone might not be feeling good, can’t post, but as far as our two shortstops go, I’m told for them to split time. So, Jordan will get three and Gunnar will get three, and how I go about manipulating that throughout the week is up to me.
“I’m somebody who likes to at least give them back-to-back days, especially at shortstop. It’s the hardest one. ”
The Orioles promoted Henderson and Westburg to Norfolk on June 6. Henderson, a second-round selection in the 2019 draft who turns 21 next week, destroyed Eastern League pitching to the tune of a .312 / .452 / .573 line with 11 doubles , three triples, eight home runs and 35 RBIs in 47 games. Westburg, the 30th overall pick in 2020, blew past a slow start to bat .247 / .344 / .473 with 14 doubles, nine home runs and 32 RBIs in 47 games.
Henderson began last night hitting .295 / .475 / .500 with three doubles and two home runs in 13 games with the Tides. Westburg, 23, was batting .383 / .420 / .809 with four doubles, two triples, four home runs and 13 RBIs in 11 games.
With the Tides down 6-5 in the ninth inning, Westburg produced an RBI double and came home on Henderson’s sacrifice fly for a 7-6 victory.
“They’ve been great. Both of them have hit the ground running up here, ”Britton said.
“Gunnar looks super physical and super athletic. He’s made some huge strides just as far as his body last year. Reminds me a lot of how Jonathan Schoop was always so big and kind of clumsy. I guess ‘clumsy’ might be a harsh word, but he kind of started to figure out his body, and I think that’s where Gunnar is right now. He’s kind of growing up a little bit. He’s been really fun to watch. ”
The looks were fleeting for Britton last year when he managed at Bowie, and Henderson appeared in only five games, going 3-for-15 with 10 strikeouts.
“This is a big, physical kid, but if he stays as athletic as he is right now, there’s a chance he’ll be one of those big shortstops,” Britton said. “I think the Orioles used to have a pretty big shortstop that was all right.”
Westburg was mainly a shortstop at Mississippi State University, but he’s also made 53 starts at third base in the minors, and 21 at second.
“Westburg’s been really good,” Britton said. “Mr. Consistency is what Westburg is. Smart baseball player, and both of them are doing a really good job offensively. They’ve got a chance to be two guys who can really hit for us. ”
Henderson has been playing three games at shortstop and two at third base per week. Westburg played three at short last week and two at second base, but he started at third base last night.
“It changes week to week,” Britton said, “but those guys are going to get the majority, if not all the reps at shortstop, for sure.”
The Orioles will inherit the challenges down the road, no later than 2023, and figure out where to start two of their top prospects.
“It’s a good problem to have, right?” Britton said. “A couple guys that are young, that can really play that shortstop position. We’ll see what that looks like in a year or two. ”
Terrin Vavra returned from the injured list and has been bumped off shortstop.
Vavra, acquired from the Rockies in the Mychal Givens trade in 2020, has made 12 starts in center field, nine at second base and two in left field.
“His ticket is his versatility,” Britton said. “He can probably play all three outfield spots for you. But he’s primarily playing second base and center for us, and he’s doing a nice job. A little, scrappy player. Going to take a good at-bat every time, handles left-handed pitching. Not going to provide a whole lot of damage, but a lot of contact. ”
Vavra was slashing .320 / .421 / .412 in 24 games before last night. He’s on the 40-man roster and improving his chances of making his major league debut this summer. The ability to move around the infield and outfield enhances the odds, with no resistance to being viewed more as a utility player.
“I think he’s got that mindset,” Britton said. “His knowledge of the game helps him when he goes out. He has a general understanding of all the positions on the field. It’s just the technical things that he has to work on for each position, but he has a general sense of the game, moving around.
“I think it’s best for him and I think he does enjoy it.”
You won’t hear any complaints from Britton as more prospects infiltrate his roster. Triple-A no longer is a rest stop for veterans on the way down.
“It’s exciting, for sure. To see these guys and the growth that they’ve had, ”Britton said.
“I had Gunnar for about three weeks at the end of last year, and to see the strides he made, and to be reunited with Westburg, I think it’s an exciting time for the organization. I can’t wait for these guys to graduate and see what they do for us in the big leagues. ”