He has essentially played a full big league season’s worth of games at the Triple-A level. And now, after 158 games with the Norfolk Tides and having spent more than a calendar year with that club, Jordan Westburg’s big league debut is finally at hand.
He is expected to join the Orioles roster today and play in the game tonight when they open a three-game series with the Cincinnati Reds. As it turns out, 21-year-old Elly De La Cruz of the Reds will not be the only big-name prospect getting attention in this series.
Westburg is ready, probably more than ready, and maybe among the most impressive aspects of his game is that while fans and media bantered about him and speculated about when his time would finally come, he just kept taking great at-bats and hammering baseballs.
The focus is strong.
In what would turn out to be his last two games in Norfolk’s series at Nashville, he went 5-for-9 with a homer. One last reminder to the organization – still here, still raking, still ready.
Now his day has come.
Selected No. 30 overall by the team in the shortened 2020 MLB Draft out of Mississippi State, this player quickly made it clear he was both mature and driven. He is well known for his relentless work ethic, and for pregame work and preparation that is similar day-to-day. The focus has a real intensity.
Where players like Gunnar Henderson and Colton Cowser will seem more relaxed and not afraid to throw out some jokes from time to time, Westburg is quiet, focused and yes, always driven.
His production though, is unquestioned.
In 67 games at Triple-A this year he batted .295/.372/.567/.939 with 18 homers and 54 RBIs. In 158 games with the Tides since his first game at Norfolk last June 8, he has hit .283/.366/.533/.899 with 40 doubles, five triples, 36 homers, 121 runs and 128 RBIs.
Westburg was the 2022 Orioles Minor League Player of the Year. He played 47 games at Double-A Bowie and 91 with Norfolk last season, batting .265/.355/.496/.851 with 39 doubles, three triples, 27 homers, 96 runs scored, 106 RBIs, 70 walks and 12 stolen bases in 138 games. He led all O's minor league players in doubles, extra-base hits (69), total bases (270) and RBIs. He also finished second in the organization in hits and home runs.
When he was at Oriole Park late last year to talk about the Player of the Year award, he mentioned how players at Triple-A had always pushed each other to get better.
“I think there is a competition that is involved when you are around guys as talented as they are pushing each other every day," Westburg said. "Everyone is getting better trying to keep up with each other – statistically, mentally, physically. It just makes everybody better. You are starting to see it, young guys are coming up and making a difference at Camden almost immediately. It’s a testament to what goes on down in the minor leagues.”
In the last few years, Westburg and Henderson became close friends on the O’s farm. The older Westburg was like a big brother and, at times, mentor to the younger player.
“One of our big slogans, if you will, is iron sharpens iron,” Norfolk manager Buck Britton told me in an interview last summer, referring to the relationship between Westburg and Henderson. “These guys give each other their best, which obviously drives up the competition but also makes both of them better at the same time. They have more of like a brother thing going. They are not afraid to share information with each other, point out things they notice. They have a great relationship and it’s fun to see.”
In that 2022 interview, Britton said Westburg had shown five solid tools with the Tides.
“The thing I forget about Jordan when you don’t see him for a while is how fast he is,” Britton said. “This guy can move. He’s done a really nice job. And for him, I think pull side (hitting the ball) in the air was a big thing. Last year (2021) there were a lot of ground balls to the pull side, and he’s starting to really learn how to drive that ball pull side in the air. Now we want to make sure, after you master that, you stay with your strengths, and one of his strengths is driving that ball to right-center field, to the opposite-field gap. If he can stay on that and pull some balls in the air, this is another guy that can hit. I truly believe he’s going to be a really good hitter, just because of what he can do to right-center. He has a ton of power to the opposite-field gap.”
Westburg hit 18 homers in 91 games last year at Triple-A with a .869 OPS. This year he hit 18 in 67 games with an OPS of .939. So he has 36 career Norfolk homers, the second-most by any player for that club since the Tides became an O’s affiliate. Christian Walker is No. 1 with 42.
Britton has always been impressed by Westburg’s relentless work ethic.
“He goes about his business and there is a certain attention to detail he has that guys notice. Westy, he does his thing and is consistent every day,” added Britton.
When I talked with Britton just a few days ago about Norfolk's great season and the conversation got to Westburg, he talked about how professional Westburg was to just keep raking as those around him kept wondering and asking him when his day might come.
“Just a testament to the makeup of this kid,” Britton said. “He is super consistent. He pretty much has the same routine every day that he comes to the ballpark. He has a purpose for everything that he does. I think in the end - I know he is putting up these gaudy numbers - this will be something that makes him an even better big leaguer. He is going to appreciate the opportunity when it does come. He is on pace to go 40-40 here, after the year he had last year. Really proud of what Westburg has done on a daily basis.
“We’ve hit him in the middle of the lineup, just to give him a different look into how he is being pitched. Try to get more guys in scoring position for pitchers to attack him differently. He has responded with nothing but big numbers."
And now his big day is here.
Rankings news: Westburg came in at No. 34 on MLBPipeline.com's newly updated list, released just last night, of top 100 big league prospects. He is No. 41 in the most recent Baseball America top 100.
But when that new poll - which you can see here - came out last night, O's prospect Jackson Holliday was No. 1. Yep, Holliday passed the Reds' Elly De La Cruz, who will be at Camden Yards tonight. Holliday remains No. 2 on the Baseball America ranking.
In 63 games between Single-A Delmarva and High-A Aberdeen this year, the overall top pick in the 2022 draft has hit .325/.463/.531/.994 with 14 doubles, six triples, seven homers, 20 steals, 56 runs and 47 RBIs.
The Orioles have seven in the top 100 in the latest MLBPipeline.com poll. Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez is no longer eligible for that list. Colton Cowser is ranked No. 15 while Westburg is at No. 34. Heston Kjerstad is No. 40, Joey Ortiz No. 67, Connor Norby No. 71 and Coby Mayo No. 80.
Getting back to Westburg, he first started to crack top 100 lists mid-summer last year. He ended 2022 at No. 77 on MLBPipeline and No. 90 via Baseball America. Right before this year started, he was No. 74 on MLB Pipeline's list and No. 76 on Baseball America's. Now he is in the top 41 in both rankings.