The Orioles placed five prospects in Baseball America‘s top-100 prospect list released Jan. 18, and though the minor-league system lacks ideal depth beyond those five, one of the writers who helped put that list together sees one Orioles infield prospect in particular as a potential riser in 2021.
Catcher Adley Ruschman (No. 2), right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (No. 22), left-hander DL Hall (No. 59), outfielder Heston Kjerstad (No. 62) and left fielder/first baseman Ryan Mountcastle (No. 63) all cracked the list.
Baseball America‘s Ben Badler has another prospect to keep an eye on this coming season: shortstop Jordan Westburg, who was taken by Baltimore with the No. 30 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft out of Mississippi State. Westburg was a career .285/.385/.446 hitter with the Bulldogs from 2018-2020 and had gotten off to a hot start as a junior prior to the shutdown.
A day after Westburg was drafted by the Orioles, MASN and SEC Network analyst Ben McDonald said the 6-foot-3, 203-pound shortstop could end up being “one of the best athletes in this draft and one of the most talented players in this draft,” with the question mark being whether his tools turn into production more regularly; he has some swing-and-miss in his game.
Badler echoed those thoughts, saying he sees Westburg as a potential riser up the Orioles’ prospect list thanks to his tools and the chance he has to stay at a premium position.
“I think he’s a real interesting guy. He’s certainly got a lot of tools — athleticism, defense, plus runner,” Badler said on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 20. “I think he has even more power than he’s shown in games. He hit well in the [Cape Cod League in 2019], but [he’s] another guy where [we have] limited information just based on the college season getting killed early on.”
Badler also shared his thoughts on Rutschman, Rodriguez and Mountcastle. Rutschman and Rodriguez both spent the 2020 season at the alternate site at Double-A Bowie and capped off the year with a trip to fall instructional league in Sarasota, Fla. Mountcastle made his big-league debut after a stint at the alternate site, where he worked on his defense and plate discipline.
– Rutschman hit .254/.351/.423 across three levels in 2019. “We had really glowing reports on him coming out of college. The track record was impeccable,” Badler said. “We think this guy’s going to be a middle-of-the-order hitter — at least plus hit with plus power potentially, and maybe even more than that, to the point where if he was a first baseman, we’d be talking about him as a pretty highly-ranked, impact-type player. And oh, by the way, this guy [doesn’t] just catch but he’s a really good defensive catcher, too.”
– Rodriguez posted a 2.68 ERA, 129 strikeouts and 36 walks in 94 innings in 2019. “Certainly all the arrows are pointing in the right direction for him ever since they drafted him,” Badler said. “It sounds like the fastball is mid- to upper-90s, got good reports out of him this summer. It’s really good secondary stuff, too. He’s got a chance to miss a lot of bats. He throws strikes, too. It’s a lot of attributes you look for not just in a starter but somebody who can be a mid-rotation to front-of-the-rotation starter.”
– Mountcastle hit .333/.386/.492 in 140 plate appearances at the big-league level in 2020. “Obviously, he performed well this [past] year, but I think the track record is of, I wouldn’t say a free swinger, but somebody who needs to be more of a disciplined hitter. But I think he could become somebody like a Nick Castellanos-type player. I think he has a chance to be a quality, productive big leaguer, but I also would not be surprised if we saw some regression from the really loud debut that he did have.”
To hear more from Badler, including what the Orioles’ entrance into Latin America means, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mississippi State Athletics