With most of the talk about the Orioles’ 2020 draft concerning their surprise No. 2 pick of outfielder Heston Kjerstad (good news about him arrived yesterday, by the way), somewhat lost in the scuffle was Baltimore’s selection at No. 30. But maybe it’s time to starting paying the Orioles’ No. 6 prospect, Jordan Westburg, a little more attention. With power, a plus arm, and plenty of athleticism, the 22-year-old shortstop has the potential to evolve into a starting infielder sometime quite soon.
Born February 18, 1999, Westburg graduated from New Braunfels High School in Texas (between San Antonio and Austin), where he played baseball, basketball, and football. After his junior year, he committed to play college ball at Mississippi State University, a place that has graduated its fair share of MLB players, including the famous ’80s-era duo, “Thunder and Lightning,” Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro.
Westburg’s freshman year at Mississippi State started off a downer—he missed two weeks with a hamstring injury while batting just .248 with two home runs and thirty RBIs in 42 games. But he heated up during the 2018 College World Series, helping his team return to Omaha in 2019, and his offensive numbers got better and better over his college career. As a sophomore in 2019, Westburg hit .300 in 66 games with six home runs and 61 RBIs. His junior season in 2020 was off to a fine start—a .317 average with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 16 games—before the COVID-19 pandemic cut it short.
At 6’3” and 203 lbs., Westburg is large for a shortstop, but scouts seem to have no qualms about his defense. Fangraphs calls him a physical, “quintessential, up-the-middle” infielder with the “feet and actions to stay there.” MLB Pipeline gives Westburg a 50 score in fielding and a 55 in arm strength, adding that even if his “size and average speed mean he’ll never be the slickest defensive shortstop,” there’s no doubt that he can “make all the plays.” Plus “[t]here wasn’t a better double-play combination in college baseball at the time of the 2020 Draft than Mississippi State’s Justin Foscue and Westburg, who stood out as the shortstop with more ceiling and defensive value of the two.” Foscue was drafted at No. 14 to the Rangers, while the Orioles picked Westburg with the Competitive Balance Round selection at No. 30 overall. Given Westburg’s size, some scouts speculate that, if he puts weight on his frame, he might be moved to third base, where he’d profile well defensively, given his plus arm and offensively, too, with his high power potential.
At the dish, Westburg’s signature tool is his “gap-to-gap” power, even though he’s had limited time to show it off given that he didn’t play a game of professional baseball in 2020. Baseball America’s Ben Badler opined in January that Westburg is “a real interesting guy” with lots of tools, and that he probably “has even more power than he’s shown in games,” notwithstanding the limited information available on him.
Still, people seem to agree on two things about Westburg at the plate: he possesses a compact right-handed swing with ample power potential, and he strikes out a little too much. MLB Pipeline says Westburg has the ability to drive the ball gap-to-gap, and believes he could consistently deliver 20-plus home runs a year at the highest level. That said, they also warn that his “aggressive approach” led him to occasional struggles with pitch recognition in college. In 2019 Westburg struck out 69 times in 265 at-bats (a 26% K rate) and 15 times in 60 at-bats in 2020 (a 25% K rate). Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen believes that while Westburg’s “short, compact swing” is “geared for contact at the top of the zone,” he may need “a swing tweak so his barrel better mirrors the flight path of the baseball.” Still, insists Pipeline, if there are any holes in Westburg’s swing, they weren’t an issue at Orioles instructional camp last fall, where he was apparently one of the top performers.
Like all other minor leaguers, Westburg’s development was held back by a cancelled 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite that, he’s impressed the Orioles in a small sample size, particularly last October. Young for his draft class, Westburg is viewed as someone who could move quickly through the Orioles’ farm system if his offensive numbers warrant it. This should be exciting news for Orioles fans. With his athleticism, speed, and all-fields power, Westburg profiles as an everyday middle infielder, and if he can shrink his strike zone a little, he could be an important piece in the Orioles infield of the future.