Orioles 2020 First-Rounder Jordan Westburg Talks Hitting

Jordan Westburg is a promising young hitter off to a good start in his first professional season. Drafted 30th overall last year out of Mississippi State University, the 22-year-old infielder is slashing .364/.482/.591 in 56 plate appearances for the low-A Delmarva Shorebirds. In the words of our own Eric Longenhagen, Westburg has been doing his damage with “a short, compact [right-handed] swing that is geared for contact at the top of the zone.”

Westburg — No. 8 on our Baltimore Orioles Top Prospects list — talked hitting prior to Wednesday’s game against the Carolina Mudcats.


David Laurila: We’re going to talking hitting, but let’s start with getting hit. Do you ever get asked about how often you get plunked by pitches?

Jordan Westburg: “I got asked that when I was in college. The simple answer is that I’m probably crowding the plate a little bit, and when guys try to come in hard on me, sometimes they miss their spot. But yeah, I’ve always had a knack for being hit by pitches, for whatever reason. I’m kind of a ball magnet. That’s kind of followed me into pro ball — I’ve already been hit a few times so far this season — but I don’t mind them, especially with two strikes. Bring them on. I’ll take the on-base percentage over strikeouts any day.”

Laurila: Brandon Guyer comes to mind.

Westburg: “Oh, yeah. There’s something to be said about just taking those HBPs. If a pitcher is going to make a mistake… I mean, it’s the same as if he leaves a fastball over the middle and you hammer it. You’re getting on base to start something for your team.”

Laurila: Is there an art to getting hit by pitches?

Westburg: “No. I wish there was, because then I would sound like a genius. It’s just one of those things that happens, and some guys get hit more than others.”

Laurila: Getting a good pitch to hit is presumably your primary goal when you’re in the box. Outside of that, what are you focusing on?

Westburg: “I want to be ready for that fastball. Guys throw so hard nowadays. And every fastball is a little bit different; that’s where scouting reports come into play. But I feel that as long as I’m on time, and ready for the heater in the zone, I can adjust to any mistakes the pitcher makes with an off-speed. Now, if he makes his pitch, I’ll probably just have to tip my cap.”

Laurila: Given all the velocity, how hard is it not to cheat on the fastball?

Westburg: “It’s hard. I mean, that’s what you instinctively want to do as a human being — as a hitter. You want to cheat, because you’re so afraid of getting beat sometimes. You have to remind yourself that you’re here for a reason, right? If you couldn’t hit a good fastball, you wouldn’t be in professional baseball. You tell yourself to almost relax, and to just see-ball-hit-ball. Trust the preparation, trust your talent level, trust that don’t have to cheat to be on time with a 95 or 98 mph fastball and hit it hard.”

Laurila: Is see-ball-hit-ball your M.O.?

Westburg: “I like to think it’s that easy, especially when I’m going good — I try not to think of anything else — but there are certain attack plans against certain pitchers where you almost have to look in a certain zone. And if he puts it there, you can’t miss it. Like I said, if a pitcher makes his best pitch, in the location he wants, sometimes there’s not a lot you can do with it. You have to tip your hat and give the pitcher props, knowing that he can’t do that 10 times out of 10.”

Laurila: Looking at the box score for [Tuesday night’s game], I saw that you had a pair of hits, but also two strikeouts. Take us through those plate appearances.

Westburg: “We faced a starter who we didn’t have a ton of information on. We knew he threw in the high 90s and had a good, hard slider — I think it was a 91–92-mph slider. So you go into the box thinking everything is firm. Right? You’re hoping you can get that fastball and be ready for it, because nobody wants to hit the 91-mph slider.

“My first at-bat, he grooved me a fastball and I don’t know if I wasn’t ready for it, or if I wasn’t being aggressive enough, but I took it for a strike. Then he he threw me a good slider, but a very hittable one that was kind of on the inner third. It’s one that I don’t like taking, but for whatever reason, I didn’t get a swing off. Then he made his pitch. He threw a low-and-away slider that was borderline. I don’t like chasing, so taking a pitch like that and almost leaving it up to the umpire is okay with me. The umpire rung me up. I tipped my hat and went back to the dugout.

“The next guy we faced was a little change of pace — a little less velo, but maybe a little bit more run on the fastball; it was two-seam-like. He was pounding everybody in that down-and-away spot, so I kind of went up with the plan of, ‘If he’s going to throw me there, I’m going to just stay with it and not try to do too much.’ I was able to get something on the barrel and hit a double down the right field line.

“I faced him again in my third at-bat, so I had an idea of how the fastball was going to move and how he was going to attack me. He beat me early in the count with the fastball and got me to two strikes. I worked it back to a full count — I think I fouled a pitch or two off — then he made a really good pitch. He ran the two-seam up in the zone — probably one of his better pitches of the night — and beat me. I hate striking out. I hate getting beat, but I understand it’s going to happen. It’s baseball. All I could do is go back to the dugout thinking, ‘If I get him one more time, like he’ll be mine.’

“My fourth at-bat, they brought in a lefty. His velo was about the same as the guy before, but with a little bit of hop to the fastball, so it’s going to get on you a little bit. I felt I’d maybe been a little passive in my previous at-bats, so I told myself that if that fastball is there, I need to jump on it. Sure enough, he left the fastball kind of up. I hit it over the left fielder’s head for for double.

“So, like I said, for every pitcher you have to formulate a new attack plan. You also have to make adjustments pitch-to-pitch, and at-bat-to-at-bat. I feel like I did a pretty good job of that last night. Obviously, there are some things in there that could be cleaned up — nobody likes striking out — but overall I was pretty pleased.”

Laurila: You said that a 91-mph slider isn’t a pitch you want to hit, but you also said that you took one in your first PA you that should have swung at.

Westburg: “I should have been a little bit more clear on that. If he’s going to make that pitch low-and-away, there’s not a whole lot you can do other than break your bat. That’s a tough pitch to handle; it’s a tough pitch to get a good solid barrel on. But with it being in, it probably doesn’t have as sharp of a break and you can see it a little bit longer. You can maybe make that adjustment to pull your hands in and get the barrel out front. If I could go back in time — hindsight is 20/20 — I would probably have swung out of my shoes instead of taking it.”

Laurila: Elevated fastballs are arguably the most challenging pitches to hit.

Westburg: “Oh, yeah. 100%. Like I said, velos are going up, and pitchers are realizing that getting a barrel to something thrown at the top of the zone, especially with that four-seam spin that makes it jump with that almost rising effect… that’s a hard pitch to handle as a hitter. At the same time, I feel like if you’re ready to hit that pitch, you can get the barrel to it. That’s also the pitch you can do most damage on. Those are the pitches that are easiest to elevate; those are the pitches that are easiest to hit out of ballpark.

“If you have a scouting report showing that a guy likes to throw up there, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to go to the plate and be ready for it. You can always adjust to lower in the zone, because you’re giving yourself more time. If you’re thinking, ‘OK, he’s going to have a really good fastball at the top of the zone, so I’m going to get on time a little bit earlier to be ready for it,’ you’re just giving yourself more time to hit anything that’s slightly lower in the zone.”

Laurila: Is it not difficult to get on top of an elevated fastball?

Westburg: “It’s maybe the hardest pitch to consistently handle, but if you can get on top of it, and get that barrel flush to it, the ball is going to travel. But it’s not something you should be sitting on with every pitcher. Justin Verlander, for example. Guys know that he’s going to throw the high fastball at the top of the zone, and they still don’t have a lot of success on it. That’s where your game plan might be to scrap that pitch and pick a different zone or different location.”

Laurila: Earlier you said that every fastball is different. By that, did you mean you can basically put them in buckets?

Westburg: “I think there are different buckets. I wouldn’t say every single pitcher has a different fastball. There are guys like Verlander and [Walker] Buehler, guys with really hoppy fastballs, who are in one bucket. You have your sinkerballers, which run in different buckets. Some guys make a living off throwing a little bit softer sinker, versus a guy like [Brusdar] Graterol with the Dodgers, who throws 98-mph bowling balls. Those guys are freaks. Then you have cut fastballs, like your Mariano Riveras and your Kenley Jansens.

“So, every fastball is going to be a little bit different. Movement-wise, you can put them in buckets. There are spin rates. Pitch frequencies are a different thing — different animals to talk about — but for the most part, you know that every pitcher’s fastball is going to be different in some way. How he uses it, and how he attacks you, is something you need to formulate into your game plan.”

Laurila: What are your thoughts on swing analytics? Fine-tuning is obviously a good thing, but at the same time, executing the exact same swing against every pitcher, in every situation, isn’t feasible.

Westburg: “I agree with that. I don’t know that I look at my swing analytics too often. I do like looking at video and breaking down different things. I love to learn, so I’m open to what our hitting coaches dissect, and talking to them about what they see, whether it’s new-school or old-school stuff. But at the end of the day, I know who I am as a hitter. I think I have a pretty good idea of how my swing works best.

“When I get into the box, I’m just worried about attacking the game plan that I’ve set for this pitcher. In my mind, it’s a dog fight. Every at-bat is a dog fight. The pitcher is trying to get you out, and you’re trying to get on base. How you do that doesn’t really matter.”


Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Joey Gallo, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Tim Hyers, Trevor Larnach, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Daniel Murphy, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Zac Veen, Luke Voit, Jesse Winker, Nick Yorke.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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3 years ago

Westburg sounds sharp. Somehow underrated despite a strong college career, including showing with wood bats, and being selected pretty early