On June 5, the Orioles got some bad news: No. 1 pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, who was in the middle of a white-hot season, would be out until September with a lat strain. Just a day later, good news galloped to the rescue: two of the system’s highest-ranked infield prospects, Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg, had made the jump from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk.
At the time, Henderson was playing so well that Camden Chat felt obligated to inaugurate the ALL CAPS GUNNAR HENDERSON nickname to express the excitement. GUNNAR would play just 65 games in Triple-A, OPS’ing .894 with 25 extra-base hits before getting the call-up to the Big Show in late August, thereby becoming the youngest player in MLB. There, he’d crush it, as we all well know.
All of this is to say, Jordan Westburg has sometimes been overshadowed by the dazzling talent around him. But with a farm system this deep, I like to imagine GUNNAR calling up his friend Westburg one day and telling him, “There’s enough for all of us to eat.”
A star in college who helped lead Mississippi State to College World Series appearances in 2018 and 2019, Westburg impressed the Orioles with his combination of athleticism, power and speed, and they selected him with the No. 30 overall pick in 2020. In his first pro season, Westburg went from Delmarva to Bowie, and he’d start 2022 at Bowie, too.
At each level of minor league ball, Westburg would get off to a slow start, then heat up after a month or two. This season, he started just .197/.307/.447 in the month of April (though still flashing intriguing power, with nine extra-base hits). But he slashed .289/.386/.500 and OPS’d .866 in May. This was enough to earn him a promotion to Norfolk after 47 games.
In July, Westburg’s first full month at Norfolk, he hit just .210/.264/.296—that is to say, the power evaporated almost completely, as his .560 OPS would suggest. But Westburg made his adjustments, and in August his OPS jumped up to .860, and in September, a massive .944. Give Westburg time, and the power has come.
Overall, this added up to an impressive year at the plate. In 138 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, Westburg batted .265/.355/.496 with 39 doubles, three triples, 27 homers, 96 runs scored, 106 RBIs, 70 walks and 12 stolen bases. After his promotion to Triple-A on June 6, Westburg led the International League in RBIs, tied for the lead in doubles, and came in second in extra-base hits, total bases, and runs scored.
This was good enough for the 23-year-old Westburg to crack the MLB Top 100 in July (MLBPipeline currently ranks him No. 77, Baseball America No. 90). He also would earn team honors as the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year after leading all O’s minor league players in doubles, extra-base hits (69), total bases (270) and RBIs.
What’s great, too, is that Westburg is doing all of this while occupying premium real estate on the diamond. In 2022, Westburg started at least 37 games at each of second base, third base, and shortstop. He’s not known for defensive brilliance, but he is reliable. Asked which is Westburg’s best spot with the glove, Triple-A manager Buck Britton hesitated and said, “That’s hard to say. He is steady Eddie out there…. Wherever he plays, he is a guy you can put there and trust he’ll make the routine play every time.”
It’s not clear where on the infield Westburg slots in, but clearly the Orioles are keeping their options open.
Britton also described Westburg as a true “five tools” guy, and his MLB Pipeline scouting report suggests the same:
Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 55 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 55
MLB Pipeline touts Westburg’s combination of strength and bat speed “as his most notable attribute” and praises his compact right-handed swing and gap-to-gap power. Here’s a quick taste of that swing on a five-hit day Westburg laid waste to Charlotte pitching:
Jordan Westburg rakes!— Orioles Player Development (@OsPlayerDev) September 17, 2022
This is Westy's second 5-hit game of the season for Norfolk pic.twitter.com/H7Fsx5kQ2r
All told, says MLB Pipeline, “It’s an offensive profile some believe could produce 20 or more homers annually in the big leagues.”
That’s exciting. A few years ago, the middle infield was a wasteland for this Orioles team, but it’s on the up and up now. As good as shortstop Jorge Mateo was with the glove, he OPS’d just .646 at the position, and Rougned Odor is not the answer at second base. It’s not hard to imagine a future Orioles infield made up of some combination of Gunnar Henderson, Terrin Vavra, Joey Ortiz and Jordan Westburg, as soon as next year, if you’re feeling feisty.
While Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson understandably attracted the most prospect buzz this year, it was Jordan Westburg who got the nod as the Orioles’ best minor leaguer. He won’t be able to fly under the radar for much longer.
Previously: Fallen prospect roundup, Jean Pinto, Darell Hernaiz, Drew Rom, international prospect roundup, César Prieto, Mike Baumann, Hudson Haskin, John Rhodes and Reed Trimble, Cade Povich and Chayce McDermott, Joey Ortiz, Terrin Vavra, injured pitcher roundup, Coby Mayo, Kyle Stowers, Heston Kjerstad
Tomorrow: Jackson Holliday/2022 picks