Orioles get college shortstop Westburg at No. 30

June 11th, 2020

If one thing is already clear about Mike Elias and company’s strategy from their first two Drafts at the helm of the Orioles, it’s their love for position players. The O’s system needs them, and Elias keeps going back to the well again and again.

After surprising many by drafting Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad with the No. 2 pick, the Orioles dipped into the collegiate position-player ranks again to draft Mississippi State shortstop Jordan Westburg at No. 30, the first pick of Competitive Balance Round A. The 37th-ranked player on MLB Pipeline’s Draft board, Westburg hit .285/.385/.446 in three seasons for the Bulldogs, helping them reach the College World Series as a freshman in 2018. Elias described him as “high performing but also toolsy” on a video call Wednesday night.

“You look at the history of the Draft, and middle infielders, especially shortstops from big conference schools, every round they are the smartest picks you can make,” Elias said. “You should really take as many as you can, and we really like Westburg.”

Only two of the Orioles’ top 23 prospects per MLB Pipeline are middle infielders, and Westburg became even more attractive after the O’s passed on top-rated Austin Martin and Nick Gonzales to take Kjerstad. He now becomes the latest in a line of high-floor, middle-of-the-field players Elias has brought in over the last two Drafts. The O’s took position players with their first eight picks in 2019; going with college bats with their first two picks this time could free them up to focus on pitching on Day 2.

“It’s super exciting,” Westburg said. “It makes you feel like you have a chance to be a part of something special. With Heston drafted before me and [top prospect] Adley [Rutschman] last year, to have my name up with those guys and the chance to rise through this organization and make an impact is something special.”

Westburg was something of a late target for the Orioles, who waited until the Friday before the Draft to schedule a virtual meeting with him. Westburg said they were the last team to contact him before the Draft; come Wednesday night, Elias said they were eyeing several pitchers who ultimately didn’t make it to No. 30, also calling Westburg “somebody who could’ve gone a few picks earlier in the first round if things had shaken out a different way.”

The expectation is that taking Kjerstad and Westburg with their first two picks will free up the Orioles to spend big on a pitcher at No. 39 and beyond, perhaps with Oklahoma lefty Dax Fulton or Texas right-hander Jared Kelley. Baltimore has $13,894,300 in spending power this year to spend on six picks, the most of any team. The No. 2 pick valued at $7,789,900 and the 30th pick at $2,365,500 -- neither Kjerstad nor Westburg is expected to command more than slot value, and both could sign for less.

A 6-foot-3, 191-pound native of New Braunfels, Texas, Westburg formed one of the nation’s top double play combinations with No. 14 overall pick Justin Foscue, who went to the Rangers. As a freshman, Westburg became one of six players to drive in at least seven runs during a single College World Series game, when he did so during the 2018 tournament. He broke out with a .294 average and .402 OBP as a sophomore the following spring, and enjoyed a big summer in the Cape Cod League in 2019. Westburg then slashed .317/.432/.517 as a junior this spring.

Westburg is considered a plus runner and expected to grow into more power at the next level, perhaps as a potential 20-20 player in the Majors. His game does come with some swing-and-miss issues and there are some questions about whether he grows out of playing shortstop eventually.

“I believe the best part of my game is my athleticism. It allows me to be versatile on the field and play an explosive type of baseball,” Westburg said. “I want to stick at [shortstop] for as long as possible, but I understand the game is evolving and the game is changing. Because of my athleticism, I feel like I can play anywhere on the diamond.”

Said Elias: “He’s a guy who has power, above average speed, who can throw. … There is a lot to like here and we think he can stay at shortstop.”

The Draft continues on Thursday with Rounds 2-5. The MLB Network preview show begins at 4 p.m. ET, with live coverage on MLB Network and ESPN2 beginning at 5 p.m. ET. Go to MLB.com/Draft for complete coverage, including every pick on the Draft Tracker, coverage and analysis from MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, the complete order of selection and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter.

“He’s a guy who has power, above average speed, who can throw,” Elias said. “There is a lot to like here and we think he can stay at shortstop.”