Gunnar Henderson and Jackson Holliday went back-to-back as the top ranked prospects in baseball, but the two were never the only infielders expected to make an impact for the Orioles.
Coby Mayo, Joey Ortiz and Connor Norby all hope to carve out a role next year. Jordan Westburg, a first-round pick in 2020, did just that in the second half of this season.
The Orioles promoted Westburg on June 26. The Mississippi State product played second, shortstop and third base at Triple-A and made a few appearances in both outfield corners. Baltimore’s magnificent infield depth required Westburg and his peers to develop defensive versatility early in their professional career.
Henderson and Jorge Mateo provided above-average defense at short, so Westburg stuck to second and third base during his rookie campaign. He finished the year with 50 appearances at second, 29 at third base, and one start as the designated hitter.
Westburg essentially entered a platoon at second base with Adam Frazier. Frazier slashed .248/.303/.406 against right-handed pitchers compared to a sub-.200 average against southpaws. Westburg posted similar numbers against righties, going .246/.288/.388, but the rookie made his greatest impact with a .284/.354/.432 line against lefties.
Westburg graded as a perfectly average hitter with a 100 OPS+. The rookie already proved that he belongs on an MLB roster, but the 24-year-old could blossom into a lineup fixture with a strong sophomore campaign.
Westburg tallied 22 extra-base hits with 17 doubles, a pair of triples and three home runs. The power should spike next year, and Westburg projects as a hitter that can tally double-digit homers even in a semi-permanent role. He could build on a seven percent walk rate after averaging a double-digit number at every level in the minors.
Westburg played 91 games at Triple-A in 2022 and another 67 before debuting this season. Westburg and Henderson were closely linked before Henderson exploded in 2022. Very few prospects can replicate Henderson’s production—shoutout Jackson Holliday—but Westburg remained focused. He joined Henderson and Baltimore and appears likely to stick around long term.
Joey Ortiz played 15 games with the Orioles early in the season, but Westburg clearly jumped the former fourth-rounder. Ortiz holds an edge defensively, and could easily develop into a utility infielder, but Westburg projects to have the better bat moving forward.
It’s been said many times, but eventually something must give with all of these young infielders. Holliday will head to spring training with a major league roster spot on his mind. The Orioles could free up some space by moving on from Mateo or Ramón Urías, and any name that does not begin with the letter “H” could be available in a trade.
That being said, Westburg appears to hold a significant place in Baltimore’s future plans. He never returned to Norfolk after making his debut, and his ability to play multiple positions helped his cause with a resourceful Brandon Hyde. He recorded a hit in both playoff starts this year, and his poise should not be overlooked at a young age.
Will he be on the 2024 Orioles?
There may be a team out there that views Westburg as a shortstop and a player worthy of parting with a quality starting pitcher. Absent of a trade, an injury, or an absolutely catastrophic spring, Westburg should begin the year in Baltimore and remain with the team for the duration of the season.
Tomorrow: James McCann