Jordan Westburg is the Orioles' under-the-radar All-Star in his first full MLB season

On a team loaded with young stars, the third baseman has been a standout defender and a catalyst for Baltimore’s offense

The Baltimore Orioles have no shortage of talent across the diamond, with their ability to draft and develop players into productive big-leaguers on full display every time they take the field. And while shortstop Gunnar Henderson is growing into an AL MVP candidate this season, his teammate on the left side of the infield is turning into one of the best third basemen in baseball.

Coming into spring training this year, Jordan Westburg knew what was in front of him. The 25-year-old had gotten a taste of the big leagues in 2023, playing 68 games, mostly against left-handed pitching. But with the O’s strong farm system, featuring many of his Triple-A teammates knocking on the door of the big leagues, Westburg knew his performance in March would determine where he began the season.

“I didn't know what the roster situation was gonna look like going into spring training,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I certainly didn't believe that I was just going to be given a spot. I thought I had to earn it. I came in with that same edge and grit mentality that I tried to always have.”

Westburg tore the cover off the ball in the spring, and he beat out the No. 1 prospect in baseball, Jackson Holliday, to win a spot on the Orioles’ Opening Day roster. Since then, his strong spring has carried over into an even better first half in which he’s slashing .286/.338/.516. Westburg currently ranks second among AL third basemen in OPS and wRC+, and he’s tied for first in Outs Above Average. What’s more, on an Orioles squad that is currently 53-31 and tied for first in the AL East, the 2020 first-round pick has been a catalyst for manager Brandon Hyde’s dynamic offense.

“My goal every day is just to put together a competitive game on all sides of the ball,” Westburg said. “Whether that’s help lead off or whether that's hitting seventh, I just want to do what I can to help. It's gonna take nine guys, so when you have guys bought into winning baseball, that's the really cool part of this game.”

For Westburg and his fellow prospects, a key component of their early success has been their ability to deal with failure at the big-league level and still perform in their next opportunity. Westburg, Henderson, Colton Cowser and even Adley Rutschman experienced struggles early in their rookie seasons, with some of the baby birds needing another stint in Triple-A.

But they’ve all been able to persevere and find a rhythm in subsequent opportunities in the majors. That maturity hasn't been lost on their manager over the past several seasons.

“I think it's OK for guys to go down [to the minor leagues],” Hyde said. “I think it's OK for guys to go through struggles to then realize that adjustments are gonna need to be made at this level. It's not easy here. It's really, really hard. It's the hardest game to play, especially at this level for a young player. So all these guys are really tough and really driven and love to play the game, and they’ve all come through [and] played really well right now.”

Said Henderson of the team’s approach to failure: “Baseball is a game of failure, so it's gonna happen at some point. But just to have the right mindset — if you do get sent down, don't just let it kind of sit over you. Just go out there and work your butt off, and then when you get your opportunity next time, you'll break through.”

Along Westburg’s journey to big-league success, he has been able to learn from his longtime friend and teammate in Henderson. The now-23-year-old shortstop was chosen in the second round of the 2019 MLB Draft, and Westburg, 25, was taken in the first round the following year. But due to COVID, they began their first full year of pro ball together in 2021. As is the case for many of the O’s prospects, Henderson and Westburg could’ve become competitors for limited playing time in Baltimore. Instead, they built a bond that has seen them establish themselves on the left side of the O’s infield together.

“I had a little bit more baseball experience, just because he’s a younger kid, right? But it’s funny the way it works because he gets called up before me,” Westburg said. “And now I'm looking up to him, like, ‘What do I do in the clubhouse? What do you do for your routines?’ So I think there's, like, this unspoken thing with all of us. We're all close. We're all buddies. And we know when to help each other out.”

On a team full of young stars, Westburg’s strong first half is starting to be noticed outside of Baltimore. He is a finalist to start at third base for the American League in the All-Star Game and will go head-to-head with Guardians superstar José Ramirez in phase two of fan voting. You’ll rarely find a player lobbying for himself to be an All-Star, and Westburg is no different, but the fact that baseball fans outside of Baltimore believe he’s deserving is not lost on him.

“It's certainly humbling and pretty cool,” he said. “It’s something that I dreamed about as a kid, you know? Not just getting into the big leagues but being in that top percentage of players in the big leagues. … I just feel so grateful for where I'm at, so it's cool.

“It's cool to see your name up there.”