Several characteristics come to mind when describing a leadoff hitter, and Jamie Westbrook fits just about all of them.
He’s 5-foot-9 and weighs 165 pounds. He plays shortstop.
He gets on base 57 percent of the time and likes hitting the ball to the opposite field.
But the table-setter doesn’t always do his job. After all, it’s hard for his teammates to drive him in when Westbrook is constantly clearing the bases himself.
Restrictions on the trampoline effect in this year’s baseball bats have curbed home runs, but they haven’t done much to slow down the Basha junior.
Westbrook is batting .549 with slugging percentage of 1.220. He leads the Bears with 33 RBI and leads the state in home runs with 13, two more than Chaparral’s Dylan Cozens, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound left-hander.
Westbrook has led off three games with home runs this year.
“He’s hit the first pitch out a few times,” Basha baseball coach Jim Schilling said. “After one pitch, you’re up 1-0. That’s always nice.”
Last year’s home run king, Kevin Cron of Mountain Pointe, looked the part. He was a 6-foot-5, 250-pound first baseman who obliterated the state record books for single-season (27) and career (59) round-trippers.
Cozens, Brophy slugger David Graybill and several others fit the profile of a prototypical masher this year but are looking up at Westbrook on the home run leaderboard.
His size, though, has never been much of a concern.
Westbrook considers the success of Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound former Arizona State star who was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2008.
“When you see Pedroia, it’s like, ‘Man, that guy’s small!’” Westbrook said. “But I don’t think he feels small.
“It’s weird. I know I’m shorter than most people but when I’m out here I don’t feel small. I didn’t even realize I was short until I got to high school.”
Westbrook has a fully grown skill-set. He is rated as one of the best juniors in the state and Schilling calls him a “five-tool player.”
Hamilton coach Mike Woods watched as Westbrook hit a game-tying two-run shot on March 29 against his Huskies, a contest Basha won in extra innings.
“He’s incredible,” Woods said. “He hits an opposite field home run on a slider down and away. It was a pretty good pitch, and he hit it good. That tells you what kind of hitter he is.”
Westbrook’s key is his quick bat. He’s strong for his size, but still can’t generate the same type of power with his body as his bigger counterparts. Instead, Westbrook whips the bat through the zone quickly and has a propensity to square up the pitch.
“He’s got something special about him,” Schilling said. “It’s his hands. He has the quickest hands I’ve ever seen.”
Said Woods: “Home runs are bat speed, not size. Watch PGA golf and you see the 150-pound guys driving it 350 yards down the fairway. They have the swing mechanics, the fast-twitch muscles, and they generate that speed. Some kids have bat speed, some kids don’t. Jamie has it.”
Schilling estimates that Westbrook would have 20 home runs if the old “missile bats” were still being used this year. With the new restrictions, it makes what he’s doing even more impressive.
The majority of the right-hander’s home runs go out to center or right field, but his most memorable home run thus far never left the park. In a game against Perry at Salt River Fields, the Spring Training home of the Diamondbacks, Westbrook sent a shot to dead center and raced around the bases, barely beating the throw home.
“Those fields are huge,” Westbrook said. “It’s 410 (feet) to center. So I hit it, and on a normal field it’s a no-doubter, but I hit that one and just put my head down and started running because there was no chance it goes out. I thought it was going to be a triple for sure, but once I’m rounding second Coach Schil is waving me in. I’m like, ‘Man, I’m tired’, but I kept going and slid around the catcher. It was pretty cool.”
The other 12 home runs have been of the more traditional variety, and they haven’t been cheap. While some of the state’s baseball fields are launching pads, the Basha fences run about 335 feet down the line and 385 to center.
Westbrook knows he would have a higher total with the more potent bats of a year ago, but prefers it this way.
“With the (old) bats, they’d fly out of here like there was no tomorrow,” Westbrook said. “With this, you know you earned it.”
Westbrook doesn’t think about his size when at the plate. In fact, he doesn’t think about much. Like many successful players, he prefers to simplify his at-bats: See ball, hit ball.
And most of the time, it turns out pretty well.
“I swing hard and I see what happens,” Westbrook said. “That’s my approach. I don’t really see a lot of pitches. If it’s there, I’m going to hack. I’m not 250 pounds. I’m not 6-5. But I swing the bat pretty hard.”