The 2020 Draft might always be known for being shortened by the pandemic. The Orioles are hoping that, at least in Baltimore, it will earn a reputation for producing big leaguers.
First-round pick Heston Kjerstad has put his health issues behind him and is in Triple-A. On Monday, he’ll officially get beaten to Baltimore by the guy taken 28 picks later, Jordan Westburg, who, if we’re being honest, started knocking down the big league door last year.
A product of Mississippi State, the No. 34 prospect might take at-bats away from fellow Bulldog Adam Frazier at second base, but more on his defensive versatility in a minute. Because, let’s face it, it’s Westburg’s bat that has carried him to his moment.
Westburg entered pro ball with a power-over-hit reputation, but his offensive game has evolved since he debuted in the Minors, even if it might be fair to expect more of that profile that as he gets his feet wet in a Major League lineup for the first time. After hitting 15 homers in his first full season (2021), Westburg really established his power bona fides by mashing 27 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last year. He finished with 69 extra-base hits and drove in 106 runs, among the best in the Minor Leagues.
That power-first reputation stems from what was a bit of an over-aggressive approach during his college days, one that continued a little during his first full season of pro ball. In 2021, he struck out in more than 25 percent of his plate appearances, though even in that debut year, he walked 12 percent of the time.
Last year, the numbers took a positive turn. His strikeout rate dipped to 23.6 percent and he still walked in more than 11 percent of his plate appearances. It got even better once he got to Triple-A in 2022, when he struck out just 21.8 percent of the time.
Clearly, Westburg’s production was trending in the right direction and was a big reason why GM Mike Elias talked about how close the right-handed hitter was to impacting the big league team. And it wasn’t surprising that he was off to such a tremendous start to the 2023 season. At the time of his callup, he was tied for third in the International League with 18 homers, he’s third with 35 extra-base hits and he’s slugged .567. The swing-and-miss rates are, not surprisingly, positive, with a 21.2 percent K rate, while he was still drawing walks at a 9.6 rate.
Westburg has long had a history of hard contact, and Statcast backs that up. He’s hit 108 balls 95 mph or harder with Norfolk this year, a total that would place him in the top 20 in the big leagues. He’s capable of driving the ball to all fields and shows extra-base thump everywhere, though his home run pop still tends to come to his pull side.
All of this offensive breakdown might make it seem like Westburg is only about his bat, one of those prospects whose best position is the batter’s box. But that would be selling him way short.
While he’s not a burner, Westburg runs well and can steal a base, and his athleticism allows him to move around the diamond defensively. It’s not just sticking a bat in different spots so he doesn’t get exposed, either. He’s played most of his professional games as a shortstop and has the arm and actions to play there. He’s proven to be at least an above-average defender at second base and at third and this year, he’s added capable defense in the outfield corners to his resume.
This gives O’s manager Brandon Hyde plenty of options to get Westburg’s run-producing bat into the lineup, and he wouldn’t have been called up if he wasn’t going to get to swing it on a regular basis. He’d be an upgrade offensively over Frazier at second and Jorge Mateo at short and it might make sense to see him get most of his at-bats up the middle, but he can also spell Gunnar Henderson at third or any of the productive outfielders in Baltimore.