The Baltimore Orioles are hotter than a furnace inside the Earth's core right now. They've won six of eight, have climbed right back to the top of the American League East and are leading Major League Baseball with 30 home runs in just 18 games. With a lineup chock-full of homegrown young stars, they're must-watch television every single night right now.

Coming into the 2024 season, everyone already knew Gunnar Henderson was one of those stars, but there was a little bit of a forgotten middle child feel to his situation, even though he was literally the reigning Rookie of the Year. Adley Rutschman had been there from the start of the Orioles' upswing, while Jackson Holliday was the No. 1 overall prospect still waiting in the wings.

Now that the season has begun, though, Henderson is making a clear statement in Year 2 as a big leaguer. He will be nobody's No. 2 anymore, in Baltimore or anywhere else. Gunnar Henderson is the best player on the Orioles and should be considered the face of the franchise moving forward.

Gunnar Henderson by the numbers

It's hard to comprehend how good Gunnar Henderson has been in such short order. He was worth 6.2 bWAR last season, the seventh-most in all of baseball. He had a 124 OPS+ while leading the Orioles in Outs Above Average with 13. And he did so despite batting .170 through May 12, before hitting 25 of his 28 home runs the rest of the way.

But here's the kicker: As good as Henderson was as a rookie, he has been distinctly better to start his sophomore campaign. Through 18 games he's slashing .288/.344/.603, has clubbed six home runs (including one in each of his last three games) and unlike last year, when he was splitting his time evenly between shortstop and third base, has played every single game as the starting shortstop. That might seem like a minor detail, but it matters to a potential face of a franchise, especially the one that used to employ Cal Ripken Jr.

And let's not forget: Henderson won't turn 23 until June 29. It's hard to imagine he still has room to improve, but his age makes it a near certainty that his best is yet to come. If he's a fringe top-10 player in the sport at this very moment, does that make his ceiling … the best player in baseball?

Henderson vs. other Orioles

It might seem like a slam to some of Gunnar Henderson's teammates to declare him the unquestioned face of the franchise, particularly Adley Rutschman, who is already widely acknowledged as the best all-around catcher in the sport. But the ceiling is so much higher for Henderson than any of those teammates, and his current performance already more than matches them when factoring in consistency.

Let's compare Henderson and Rutschman for a moment, just to illustrate how much more dynamic a talent Henderson really is. The following numbers are all adjusted to fit the two players' career averages on a 162-game pace. Even when factoring in the inherent value Rutschman brings by virtue of playing catcher at a high level, there's a clear separation.

Statistic (per 162 games):HendersonRutschman

Rutschman is also three years older than Henderson, plus he plays a more taxing position that often saps players' offensive production. There's no way either of these two players should wear a different uniform at any point in their careers, but if the Orioles had to choose one to lock up long term right this second, it's clear who the choice should be.

Perfect synergy for Orioles

And in actuality, it balances the team out perfectly for Gunnar Henderson to be the superstar, while Adley Rutschman is the leader of the pitching staff and by extension, the clubhouse. Henderson is more of a quiet persona anyway, the classic humble, soft-spoken Southern boy who lets his play on the field do the talking.

Meanwhile, Rutschman can be the one who runs around making content for the MLB YouTube channel and crushing metal bat home runs with content creators in the offseason. It's a perfect balance both for playing good baseball and marketing.

It's a huge credit to Orioles Player Development how many other young phenoms are on the roster beyond those two, not to mention those still waiting in the minor leagues. Holliday is off to a slow start, but he has superstar written all over him as well. Colton Cowser and Jordan Westburg are going gangbusters, while Heston Kjerstad and Coby Mayo are destroying AAA. 19-year-old Samuel Basallo could prove to be better than all those guys.

But what Henderson has done at the big-league level trumps it all. He's the one you build around for the next decade-plus. He has the potential to be as good a hitter as Corey Seager was last season with significantly better defense. Not only is he the MVP of the Orioles, but he has as good a shot as anyone so far to win MVP of the entire American League in 2024.

And if he doesn't take home the trophy this year, he has nothing but time to try and win a handful in the future.