Mississippi State shortstop Jordan Westburg readied for one of his final pre-draft Zoom calls last Friday with the various Major League Baseball teams that could select him in the MLB draft. Given how late in the process he virtually met with Orioles representatives, Westburg figured he would land elsewhere.
Instead, an Orioles organization lacking middle-infield depth stocked up Wednesday night, selecting Westburg with the 30th overall pick of the MLB draft. The pick, the first of the Competitive Balance Round A after the first round, was Baltimore’s second selection of the night, following Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad with the second overall pick. The competitive-balance rounds supply picks to teams in small markets or with lower revenue.
“It was kind of weird," Westburg said on another Zoom call, this one with reporters, Thursday afternoon. "The Orioles were one of the last teams I heard from. ... To have them be the last team that I talked to and then to have the opportunity to be drafted by them just made it special. It made it feel like they were thinking of me that whole entire week leading up to the draft.”
Baseball America ranked Westburg, who hit .285/.385/.446 in three seasons for the Bulldogs, as the No. 33 prospect available in the draft. Although he hit only 10 home runs at Mississippi State, Westburg had four homers while slashing .326/.385/.516 in the wood-bat Cape Cod League last summer.
The increased power seemed to translate to the spring, as he was slugging .517 when the coronavirus pandemic ended his junior season after 16 games.
“I think it was just a matter of cleaning up my swing a little bit, staying a little more short to the ball and more compact,” Westburg said. “I think that if we would’ve had the chance to play out the full spring, I think my power would’ve definitely shown up more than it had my first two years in college. I was excited to try to showcase that. It’s just a shame that we got cut short."
He’s spent the months since back home in New Braunfels, Texas, taking advantage of a batting cage in the backyard and a shed filled with weight-lifting equipment. Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said during a video conference call Wednesday night that the team had pitchers it was eyeing with the 30th pick that other teams snagged earlier, but he was happy to come away with Westburg, who he described as “high-performing but also toolsy."
“You look at the history of the draft, and middle infielders, especially shortstops from the SEC, from the big conference schools — really, every round, they’re the smartest pick you can make when you get a chance, and you should really grab as many as you can," Elias said. “We really like Westburg.”
Only two of the Orioles’ top 23 prospects are middle infielders, with Baseball America ranking a pair of second-rounders, 2019′s Gunnar Henderson and 2017′s Adam Hall, seventh and 13th, respectively. Although Elias said Westburg has the potential to remain a shortstop, that same defensive ability could also allow him to shift elsewhere on the infield if needed.
Westburg said he thinks of himself as a shortstop first but is open to a position change should the Orioles ask for one down the line.
“I think probably the best part of my game is my athleticism, and the athleticism allows me to be versatile on the field," Westburg said. "I think it allows me to play an explosive type of baseball, and I think that explosive ability is what’s going to get me to the big leagues.
“Wherever the team and the organization thinks I’m the best fit at, I’m going to attack that and play to the best of my abilities there.”
Westburg played third base early in his college career before serving as the Bulldogs’ starting shortstop in all but one game over his sophomore and junior seasons. As a freshman, he tied a College World Series record by driving in seven runs in one game. During the Bulldogs’ run to Omaha, he put a banana on his head during a comeback in regional play, sparking a #RallyBanana movement among the fanbase.
“He’s a guy who’s got power, he’s got above-average speed, he can throw, so there’s a lot to like here, and we think he can stay at shortstop,” Elias said. “He’s somebody that I think could’ve gone a couple picks earlier, in the first round, had things shaken out a different way.”
The 30th overall pick has a slot value of $2,365,500, and the Orioles have the largest bonus pool overall at nearly $13.9 million. The club likely won’t spend the full $7,789,900 value of Kjerstad’s slot, potentially allowing Baltimore to sign prospects it selected later in the draft to deals worth more than their slot values. Teams are able to sign players for under or above their slotted values but will face penalties if their collective agreements with draftees exceed their allotted pools.
As a foe in the SEC and teammate during Team USA trials, Westburg is plenty familiar with Kjerstad, offering compliment after compliment when asked about his fellow Texas native. He looks forward to sharing the organization with Kjerstad, as well as 2019 first overall pick Adley Rutschman. Elias said the Orioles opened their draft by selecting “two dominant college players.”
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“It makes you feel like you’ve got a chance to be part of something special," Westburg said. "I know that Heston was drafted before me and then Adley last year. Just being able to have my name up there with those two guys and have the chance to kind of rise through this organization and try to make an impact is something special.”