It was, no doubt, a very good 2021 season for some Orioles hitters on the farm. In the new Baseball America top 10 prospects list that was released this week, seven of the 10 players listed were hitters.
The Orioles have been drafting hitters at the top of the draft since executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias took over here after the 2018 season, and those picks are now getting closer to the majors and drawing notice in lists like those from Baseball America.
One of those high draft picks was infielder Jordan Westburg, taken No. 30 overall out of Mississippi State in the 2020 draft, the second player taken that year by the club after outfielder Heston Kjerstad.
Westburg, considered a plus defender that could stay at shortstop, filled up the stat sheet on offense this year. He played 20 games to begin the year at low Single-A Delmarva. Then he played 62 for high Single-A Aberdeen and 30 with Double-A Bowie. Over those 112 games, he batted .285/.389/.479/.868 with 27 doubles, five triples, 15 homers, 17 steals, 74 runs and 79 RBIs.
Among full-season players on the Baltimore farm, he ranked tied for second in batting average, third in OBP, fourth in slugging and OPS and 10th in walk rate (12.1). In counting stats, he was third in doubles, tied for fourth in triples, tied for 11th in homers, second in runs and third in RBIs.
Westburg posted a 1.075 OPS with the Shorebirds, .858 with the IronBirds and .752 - and trending up quickly at the end of the year - with the Baysox.
When I interviewed him during the Double-A playoffs in Bowie, it was encouraging to hear Westburg go out of his way to compliment the three hitting coaches he worked with this year, including Bowie’s Ryan Fuller. It should be noted that the other two he worked with, Patrick Jones at Delmarva and Tom Eller at Aberdeen, have parted ways with the club since the season ended.
But to hear Westburg tell it, they sure did right by him, and so did the organization in some of its teachings and methods.
“I think our hitting staff - and this is coming from a hitter - does a great job of preparing scouting reports for us,” Westburg said in that September interview. “You can look at those and start to formulate your own plan before we even get into the game. They also do a great job of challenging us in BP. Our BP is not your average day at the ballpark where you get four rounds of five or six swings, just fastballs down the middle. You are seeing breaking balls, you’re seeing changeups. You are seeing similar pitches to what you will see that night being thrown in BP. We use the machines too. They do a good job of challenging us so when game time rolls around you’ve seen just about everything that you might see that night, and it makes it a little easier.
“Baseball is a tough game and always very hard, but it just makes us more prepared. I’m thankful that the Orioles have implemented this new school of thought, and I think it’s shown with all our hitters. All the hitting coaches at every level I’ve been - Patrick Jones, Tom Eller and now Ryan Fuller - they’ve done a fantastic job with the hitters. The numbers speak for themselves. We’ve had a lot of different guys produce at a lot of levels, and it’s cool to see.”
O’s affiliates OPS leaders among batters with 300 or more plate appearances:
.925 - JD Mundy
.899 - Adley Rutschman
.897 - Kyle Stowers
.868 - Jordan Westburg
.826 - Gunnar Henderson
.815 - Patrick Dorrian
.806 - Andrew Daschbach
.790 - Robert Neustrom
The Orioles’ last five top draft picks - pitchers DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, Adley Rutschman behind the plate and outfielders Kjerstad and Colton Cowser - are all in the new Baseball America top 10 prospects. Elias’ three drafts have produced seven players among that top 10. And of the nine players he has taken with the top three picks each year since 2019, six appear in that top 10.
In several games I saw this year, Westburg was wearing out the middle of the diamond, and he can really drive the ball to right-center, like in this highlight.