Giants: Jamie Westbrook could be the surprise of spring training

Last month, the San Francisco Giants signed outfielder Jamie Westbrook to a minor league contract with a camp invite. He could be a surprise breakout candidate this spring.

The San Francisco Giants are thin on outfielders with a proven track record, and the upcoming spring training will prove to be an open competition for the fourth outfield role.

Minor league free agent signing Jamie Westbrook will be part of that competition, along with incumbents Jaylin Davis, Austin Slater, and Joey Rickard.

So who is Jamie Westbrook?

The Arizona Diamondbacks originally drafted him in the fifth round of the 2013 MLB draft out of Basha High School in Gilbert, Arizona.

The 24-year-old has spent his entire career in the Diamondbacks organization before electing to become a free agent this past offseason. The Giants were intrigued by Westbrook for a number of reasons, and decided to add him on a minor league pact.

The Arizona native fits Giants team president Farhan Zaidi's defensive profile with the ability to play a number of positions. He was originally drafted as an infielder and spent the majority of his early professional career at second base.

However, he has received much more exposure in the outfield, especially left field, in recent seasons. That transition has led to less playing time at second base, which is a position Westbrook has not appeared at since 2017.

He should see plenty of playing time in the outfield during spring training. That said, do not be surprised if the Giants try to see if the right-handed hitter still knows his way around the infield as well.

In the batter's box, Westbrook has posted a .280/.334/.431 line in 3,197 career minor league plate appearances. His peripheral stats include a 6.3 percent walk rate against a 14.6 percent strikeout rate.

Based on those numbers, he has a contact-oriented approach with the ability to work a walk, and he has demonstrated some modest power.

As Westbrook has risen through the minor league ranks, his performance has improved with the increased competition. He has appeared with Arizona's Triple-A affiliate in each of the last two seasons, where he has generated a .333/.417/.550 line across 151 plate appearances.

Those stats by no means guarantee that he will eventually become a productive major leaguer, and it should be noted that he has not shown much over-the-fence power with just 76 home runs in seven seasons.

However, he has made changes to his swing path as noted by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs:

"Westbrook made a relevant swing change over 2017-2018 and went from a contact-only hitter to one with some relevant pop, just not enough to play left field everyday"

Similar to the adjustments seen from Austin Slater, he has lowered his hands in his stance. He has also added a leg kick similar to the one Mac Williamson used, albeit one that is less pronounced than Williamson's.

Implementing swing changes has become the modern-day equivalent of the best-shape-of-my-life proclamations made by players at the start of every spring training. However, the changes Westbrook has implemented to create more loft in his swing are intriguing.

Generally, power hitters make these changes to milk out every last ounce of power they have. These hitters tend to offset some of their power with a high rate of swing-and-miss.

This is not the case with Westbrook. Given that he only strikes out 14.6 percent of the time, creating more loft with a contact-heavy approach is an interesting development.

It may not result in more home runs, but these changes could lead to more batted balls finding the outfield grass, not unlike what Giants fans saw from Donovan Solano last season.

Knowing that the Giants will likely be giving a long look to all right-handed hitting outfielders this spring, Jamie Westbrook is a name to become familiar with.

Next: Pros and cons of signing Yasiel Puig

He has performed well in his brief time at Triple-A, and implemented swing changes that are  paying dividends. Given his improved hitting and versatility, the 24-year-old should get a real shot to prove himself this spring. It would not be surprising if he opens some eyes while doing it.