Orioles infield prospect Jordan Westburg admits it was a bit surprising that he took home the Orioles Minor League Player of the Year award after his good friend and minor league teammate Gunnar Henderson was named national Player of the Year by Baseball America.
But Westburg’s season and performance this year don’t take a back seat to anyone. He batted .265/.355/.496 (144-for-544) with 39 doubles, three triples, 27 homers, 96 runs scored, 106 RBIs, 70 walks and 12 stolen bases in 138 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. He led Orioles minor leaguers in doubles, extra-base hits (69), total bases (270) and RBIs. He also finished second in the organization in hits and home runs. After being promoted to the Tides on June 6, he led the International League with 74 RBIs.
“I’m proud of the award,” Westburg said this afternoon at Camden Yards. “I put in a lot of work this offseason to, obviously, produce the way I did this year. I’m happy that I won it. But essentially, at the big league level it’s not about me, it’s about the team and winning games and winning championships. That is what it’s going to come down to, but right now it’s cool to win this award.
“When I saw the news that Gunnar won the Baseball America Player of the Year, I was happy for him and a little shocked that I won the Orioles’ award. That is a little bit bigger award. But like I said, there were a lot of guys deserving of the award and I just feel lucky to have won it.”
And beyond Henderson, several players had big years on the O's farm this year. Henderson produced the top OPS in the system at .946, with Connor Norby next at .886, then Kyle Stowers at .884, Colton Cowser .874 and Westburg at .852.
“I feel very lucky and blessed to have won the award over guys like that,” said Westburg. “You mention Norby leading the org in homers, it’s not a small feat, especially in his first full year. Cowser making it all the way to Triple-A. Gunnar being here and making an impact immediately at the big league level. Those guys are all deserving of the award, so I’m pretty blessed to have won it.”
The Orioles' highly-ranked farm system, said Westburg, is loaded with talented players who help each other and push 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. 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.”
Westburg was the Brooks Robinson Award winner for the Orioles, and right-handed pitcher Ryan Watson won the Jim Palmer Award, the top pitching honor for this year on the O’s farm.
Watson, 24, was 7-5 with one save and a 3.44 ERA (41 ER/107.1 IP), allowing 89 hits, 45 total runs, 16 home runs, nine hit batters, 29 walks and 108 strikeouts while holding opponents to a .223 average (89-for-399) in 27 games (18 starts) between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.
“Just a lot of hard work went into it," he said of his season. "The Orioles gave me a chance and I didn’t want it to go to waste. Tried to take advantage of my opportunity."
Watson was a non-drafted free agent signed by the Orioles after his senior year at Auburn in 2020. The draft was just five rounds that summer, and Watson was signed after the draft. He said the O's, by far, showed the most interest in him.
And he has had two good years now on the Baltimore farm with a 13-8 record, 3.45 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 172 innings. And now he wins an award named after a Hall of Famer.
“It means a lot to be compared to a guy like him. A dream come true," Watson said. "But you know, not quite there yet to the end goal. Gives you something to look forward to, looking over this stadium and seeing the field that you want to be on one day. Kind of gives you extra motivation."
The Orioles, had tonight's game not been rained out, were going to honor Westburg and Watson before the game along with High-A Aberdeen manager Roberto Mercado, winner of the Cal Ripken Sr. Player Development award, and Scott Walter, winner of the Jim Russo Scout of the Year award.
I will have more tomorrow morning in this space with the minor league winners.