Get to know WVU hitting savant JJ Wetherholt

May 18th, 2024

JJ Wetherholt is one of the best pure hitters to come through the college ranks in recent history.

The West Virginia University infielder is coming off a Big 12 Player of the Year award and first-team All-American honors in 2023, vaulting himself into the conversation for a top-five selection in the 2024 MLB Draft. Here's what you need to know about the 21-year-old prospect.

FAST FACTS
Position:
SS/2B
Ht/Wt: 5-foot-10, 190 lbs.
B/T: Left/right
DOB: Sept. 10, 2002
College: West Virginia University
High school: Mars Area High School (Mars, Pa.)
Born: Baltimore, MD
MLB Pipeline ranking: 8

His hit tool is off the charts

Draft experts have touted Wetherholt as perhaps the best pure hitter in the 2024 Draft, and his numbers bear that out.

In 2023, Wetherholt slashed .449/.517/.787, winning the Division I NCAA batting title, with 16 home runs and 24 doubles. He's taken a slight step back thus far this season (.382/.525/.674), although his season has been limited to 27 games (as of May 17) thanks to a hamstring injury he suffered in February.

Wetherholt has the ability to drive the ball to all fields from the left side, and he does so without sacrificing much at all in terms of his bat-to-ball skills. He posted a tiny 10% whiff rate in 2023 with a 26/22 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Wetherholt has improved even further on the latter score, with more than twice as many walks as K's in 2024.

But hitting wasn’t always his calling card

With numbers like the ones Wetherholt has put up in college, you’d think he’s been a natural hitter all of his life. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, Wetherholt relied on secondary skills, mostly his fielding, to become a college-level player.

“I was always a pretty decent hitter growing up. I was never crazy,” Wetherholt said, via the Weirton Daily Times. “Defense was like my thing. I was really good on defense and I was really fast. I was kind of a contact hitter and I’d steal and play pretty good defense.”

Wetherholt’s high school coach, Jason Thompson, concurred.

“He had some of the fastest hands on the baseball field,” Thompson said, per the Daily Times. “I’ve seen only one ball, which took a ridiculously bad bounce, ever get by him. He was the kid you prayed every ball would be hit to. He’d make every play.”

A natural born ... right-hander?

For as sweet of a swing as Wetherholt has, it didn’t come naturally.

In an interview on the MLB Pipeline Podcast, Wetherholt said his father recalled him hitting right-handed when he first picked up a bat. That is, until his southpaw brother nudged him to switch sides of the plate.

“Being the younger sibling, you wanna copy your brother, and he hit lefty,” Wetherholt said.

It has obviously worked out for Wetherholt, but it wasn’t until years later that he fully gave up on the right side.

“For the longest time, all my metrics, like my exit velocity and bat speed, were faster righty. I didn’t have the same coordination though so we stuck with lefty.”

His sports allegiances are a bit of an anomaly

Wetherholt spent most of his childhood in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ backyard. That's Mars, Pa., to be specific, which is about a half-hour drive from the city.

But he’s a diehard Ravens fan, thanks to being born in Baltimore, per USA Baseball.

Wetherholt also spurned the state of Pennsylvania when he went to West Virginia despite living just a couple dozen miles away from the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.

“I had talked to the coaches at Pitt and Kent State, but they didn’t offer me in time,” Wetherholt said. “I jumped the gun and signed with West Virginia.”

The small town of Mars

Wetherholt’s hometown of Mars isn’t a hot bed of baseball talent, but it punches well above its weight. Despite having a population of fewer than 1,500, Mars has produced the Bednar brothers -- Pirates closer David Bednar and Giants 2021 first-round Draft pick Will Bednar -- in addition to Wetherholt.

And of course, in such a small town, the Bednars and Wetherholt have a connection. Andy Bednar, David and Will’s father, coached Wetherholt at Mars High School (home of the Fightin' Planets) and saw something special in him early on.

“As a freshman, he was our starting shortstop and hit about .400,” Andy said. “I want to say that during my coaching tenure, I found out that was a lot to take on. It’s demanding to do that as a freshman and that was the best team we ever had, losing in either the state semis or the state quarters.

“For a 14- or 15-year-old kid, that’s a pretty big stage, but he didn’t miss a beat.”

Now, Wetherholt is somewhat of a local celebrity in his hometown. Andy shared a story with the Parkersburg News and Sentinel about a day last summer when Wetherholt returned to the ballfields in Mars, setting off a fever among the young athletes.

“Just to hear about his season was great, but what was cooler was the kids knew all about it,” Andy recalled. “These are like 9-, 10-, 11-year-old kids saying, ‘JJ’s going to be here? JJ’s going to be here. Oh my God!'”

He’s looking to make (even more) Mountaineer baseball history

Even before his junior year comes to a close, Wetherholt is making history at West Virginia.

Last season, he became just the third Mountaineer to be named a first team All-American, joining Jedd Gyorko (2010) and Alek Manoah (2019). He could join Gyorko as the only Mountaineers to make the All-American team in multiple seasons this year.

Wetherholt will try to add to a surprisingly shallow West Virginia University baseball history. Just four MLB players who went to West Virginia have played 10 years or more in the big leagues. If and when Wetherholt makes the big leagues, he will look to become just the third Mountaineer to make an All-Star team, joining John Means and Manoah.

When his career is said and done, Wetherholt just might be able to call himself the best Mountaineer of all time.