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Phillies 2019 draft preview: Gunnar Henderson, SS

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Some recent rumors have the Phillies very interested in the High School Shortstop from Selma, AL. In a year this weird in the draft, that’s plenty to get me to write a preview. Gunnar is a 6’3” 195 lbs Shortstop with a commitment to Auburn. Carlos Collazo from Baseball America mentioned in a chat a few weeks back that Henderson had “grown a bit”, so perhaps now a bit bigger. Speaking of BA, they currently have Gunnar ranked 39. Before you get too worried about him being a reach at 14, note that this is the most volatile draft class I’ve seen in, at least a decade. Rece Hinds is a guy I didn’t bother doing a preview on at first because he looked like a top 10 pick and he’s now ranked 34 by BA. Same story for Jerrion Ealy who is now at 45. There are about 10 guys I have previewed or had on my list to preview who are now ranked in the 50’s and 60’s (and one in the 80’s, though that one’s due to injury). This is a draft where the difference from about the 5th pick through the 50th pick is not very big.

Before I get into reviewing tools, etc. I’ll just note the region makes me a little nervous. The Phillies’ Southeast track record is mixed, at best. They nailed Aaron Nola, probably their best pick in the last 15 years, but they also took Larry Greene, Jr., their worst pick in the last 20 years out of the region. Now, they have the same mixed bag even in strong areas like southern California, so perhaps I’m worrying about nothing, especially since they’ve turned over some scouting in that time as well.

Onto the review of the player this is supposed to be about. Gunnar is an average runner and bound to end up fringe average as he matures in all likelihood. He is still fairly athletic though and plenty of slower runners have played excellent shortstop in the Majors (Galvis, Simmons and going further back Trammell and Ripken). He also has plenty of arm for Shortstop or Third Base. Speaking of which several reports are split on his ability to stay at short for 2 reasons. First, that arm is good, but his accuracy can get spotty when throwing from different arm angles, something that happens a lot at Short. The second reason is his footwork is getting better, but still a bit sloppy and extra steps at short can easily be the difference between close plays and infield singles.

Since the Phillies are considering him at 14, apparently, I’m going to assume they’re optimistic he can stay at short (or they’re buoyed by Gorman’s early success at 3rd after being drafted 19th last year by the Cards). The power and hit tools profile as average to perhaps above average for the power.

The video below is from 2080 baseball. Gunnar hits out of a very wide stance with a fairly flat swing. He just uses a toe tap for timing, but his bat speed and load are both very good. I’m not sure he needs to add a kick, as I do like how level he keeps his eyes in his swing. In the era of launch angle, I think he can add some plane to his swing, but probably keep the stance and toe tap.

Here’s an even better video from Baseball Factory taken at last years Under Armour All-American at Wrigley Field. Gunnar just murders everything up in the zone and rolls over the few low pitches. This reinforces for me the need to get a little more lift in the swing so he stops topping so many sliders, curves, cutters, etc. (to be fair, that happens to all hitters at times and there aren’t a ton of videos of Gunnar for me to see how often this happens to him). You also get several infield drills to watch where you can see some of the extra steps scouts mention.

I really prefer a College bat this year, due to the relatively high floor of that profile. That said, I can see the potential they may well see here. Good bat speed and possible above average or better power with some tweaks to the swing. Good athleticism and the tools to play short, and heck, even the College shortstops this year have questions about whether they can stick, so I get it. In addition, his power could play well at Third, if a move is needed. I would not be disappointed in this pick in a spot where every pick is going to be similarly risky.