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Orioles prospects using instructional camp to build bonds, habits and get ‘1% better every day’

As others of the Orioles’ top prospects have been, infielder Jordan Westburg wasn’t shy about sharing his hopes for the organization’s future.

“We’re trying to win a World Series here with the Orioles,” Westburg said.

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And in his eyes, the seeds of that future championship are being planted at Baltimore’s instructional fall camp in Sarasota, Florida, where Westburg and several of the organization’s high-ranking prospects are not only making initial preparations for the 2022 season but also forming connections they believe will be vital to making the franchise’s rebuild a successful one.

“The big league club has been struggling the past few years, I don’t think that’s any secret,” Westburg said on a video call. “But we have a lot of talent in the minors, in the farm system. And if we can just have a lot of guys come together as a tight-knit group, move up together and hopefully make an impact at the big league level in a few years. I feel like we’ll have a really good opportunity to make a playoff push and hopefully win a World Series.”

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Aspects of that began during this season, with the Orioles repeatedly moving up prospects closer to the majors whenever they felt the players were ready for their next challenge. Westburg, Baltimore’s No. 6 prospect according to Baseball America, played at three affiliates in 2021, as did Gunnar Henderson, the club’s fourth-ranked prospect. Like Westburg, Henderson is a shortstop by trade, and the two bonded by competing for playing time there whenever they shared a team.

Drafted in 2019′s second round out of high school, Henderson is younger than many of the Orioles’ other top position player prospects, who were selected as college players. He said that hasn’t impacted how he’s been able to bond with them.

“We all have the same goal in mind,” Henderson said. “There’s not been anybody that hasn’t been friendly or been a great teammate so far.”

Aberdeen IronBird infielders Jordan Westburg, left, and Adam Hall, right, share a fist-bump during a game at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium on June 1.
Aberdeen IronBird infielders Jordan Westburg, left, and Adam Hall, right, share a fist-bump during a game at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium on June 1. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

A similar situation applies to third baseman Coby Mayo, a high school draftee from 2020′s fourth round. When several older members of the Orioles’ 2021 draft class moved up from the Florida Complex to Low-A Delmarva, Mayo, 19, went with them, contributing to massive offensive outputs from the Shorebirds.

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“Getting the experience to go up there with them and be, like, a part of them was a really cool experience,” Mayo said. “Talking to them every day just about their college experience and just any tips they had or they asked me some questions about pro ball. It’s a really special class and obviously, you could see that in Delmarva.”

The Orioles’ No. 10 prospect contributed to that success, with a .963 OPS and five home runs in 27 games. Mayo noted his in-game exit velocity topped out about 112 mph during the season; the major league Orioles had only 16 balls put in play that hard in 2021, according to MLB’s Statcast data.

He’s using the fall camp to continue to make that type of contact more frequent, honing in on the types of pitches he can be successful with rather than ones he tends to drive into the ground. It’s another aspect of the swing-decision machine the Orioles are building in the minors.

“We focus on just hitting the ball hard in the air and it gives us the best shot to win games,” Mayo said. “I don’t think it’s really beneficial for me and for the team if I swing at pitches out of my zone and just hit ground balls.”

Approach is just one element of what the Orioles are working on in Sarasota, with players also performing strength and conditioning work coming after a lengthy season following the coronavirus pandemic’s cancellation of the 2020 minor league season. Each player is on an individualized program, with Westburg saying he’s simply working to get “1% better every day.” It doesn’t seem to be an uncommon mindset among the top prospects as they march their way closer to Camden Yards.

“I feel like it’s a good just foundation for all of us guys that are young in this organization, just building relationships,” Westburg said. “Building those relationships is only going to help us in the future.”

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