The University of Mississippi State has been a pipeline of talent to the major leagues for a long time, a tradition that could continue with shortstop Jordan Westburg.
In the MLB draft, relationships matter. Coaches and players are more likely to play nice with organizations they’ve had dealings with in the past. That line of resining may not lead one to choose the Tigers as a natural landing spot for Jordan Westburg – in the past decade, the Detroit Tigers have drafted a player from Mississippi State only four times. Of those, pitcher Daryl Norris and second baseman Brett Pirtle were both drafted by former General Manager Dave Dombrowski and both were taken after the 20th round. Jacob Robson, drafted in the 8th round in 2016 and Zac Houston, taken in the 11th round of that same year, are the only players taken from Mississippi State under current General Manager Al Avila.
Could Westburg be the highest-drafted Mississippi State player to put on a Tigers uniform? Let’s take a look at his report.
Jordan Westburg stands at 6’3 and is a right-handed hitter. Like Casey Martin, another collegiate shortstop we profiled recently, he has excellent athletic traits. Baseball America describes him as having plus speed and plus raw power. He doesn’t always bring that power into games and only hit six home runs in 2019. His full-season numbers that year look very nice, including .294/.402/.457 with 21 doubles, two triples, and the six home runs we mentioned a moment ago. However, it clearly demonstrates that his power numbers are inflated by doubles.
He has a projectable frame, however, and the in-game power would continue to develop by adding some weight. Even if he remains a doubles hitter who shoots the gaps, he could be perfect for Comerica Park with his plus speed.
He demonstrated patience at the plate, leading the team in walks with 39 which comes out to a 12.1 walk rate and the instinct to get on base showed, reaching 63 times in 66 games he played in. Patience at the plate isn’t a common attribute among Tigers players, so his discipline would be very welcome in the organization.
His 2019 Cape Cod numbers demonstrated he could handle the wooden bat, hitting .326/.385/.516 in 104 plate appearances with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks. In his first week in the Cape Cod League after hitting .625 (10-for-16), he won Cape Cod Baseball Player of the Week, hitting two home runs in his first game. An honor like that among some of the best players in the nation was quite the start to his second season in Cape Cod.
While he showed he could handle the field well – he and Justin Foscue are one of the best double-play combinations in the country, turning 24 double plays in 2019 – scouts do not see him as an elite defender at shortstop. He may be forced to transition to 3rd base or 2nd base down the line. He had 13 errors in 2019 and had already accumulated 5 errors in 2020. Overall, his fielding percentage at Mississippi State was .936.
Westburg’s approach at the plate is aggressive and it shows on his strikeout rates. He struck out in 25% of his plate appearances as a freshman then in 2019, he showed an improvement, cutting his rate to 21% and despite the micro-sample size, he did only struck out 18% in 2020. With that being said, according to scouts, that projects him as a fringe-average hitter. You can also interpret that he is still growing as a hitter and not an indication of potentially being a high strikeout rate hitter as he goes through the minors.
Fangraphs’ Draft Board has Westburg ranked 30th in this year’s class and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com projects him going 29th overall to the Dodgers. If he does fall into the Tigers’ hands at number 38, his power projection and athleticism to play a position in the infield would certainly be intriguing regardless of who the Tigers take with their first pick. If they come away from the first two rounds with both Westburg and Spencer Torkelson, though, it’s easy to dream on a future with the duo in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup sooner than later.