Ask any baseball coach if they can use left-handed pitching and the answer will be “yes.” How about a southpaw who can throw four pitches? The coach would probably want to know where to find him.
The men’s baseball program at UNC Asheville found that pitcher at Owen High School. Will Westbrock committed to continue his career in the sport with the Bulldogs.
Westbrock, who played only one season of baseball, was surrounded by family, friends and plenty of former teammates in the Owen gym May 10 when he committed to playing baseball for the nearby NCAA Division I program.
“This feels great,” he said. “I’m excited to get started and work hard for this team.”
Westbrock, named Western Highlands Conference Pitcher of the Year for the 2018 season, will bring a good deal of talent to Greenwood Baseball Field, where the UNCA Bulldogs (12-36 during the 2018 season) play their home games. Westbrock, also named all-conference and the Warhorses' MVP, was one of few bright spots for the Warhorses this season; the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
“He’s an extremely gifted athlete who is not only a solid left-handed pitcher, but a great hitter and a great outfielder,” Owen head coach Anthony Lee said. “He’s somebody that’s got a lot of tools.”
Among those tools the 6-foot-2 pitcher has is a mid-80s mph fastball. The pitch becomes imposing when thrown with Westbrock's command and the control he has of his off-speed pitches, Lee said.
“His ball has a lot of natural movement on it,” Lee said. “He’s what I call a four-pitch guy; he’s got his fastball, change-up, slider and curveball. He has good command of those pitches.”
Being able to throw strikes at different speeds and angles “makes that fastball seem a lot faster,” he added.
That’s likely what the 83 batters who Westbrock struck out this year thought. In his team-leading 43.2 innings, he allowed only 18 hits and 10 earned runs. He finished the season with a 2-2 record and a 1.60 ERA.
The Bulldogs recruited him as a pitcher, but his work with the bat, which he said he started swinging from the time he could walk, is impressive as well.
Westbrock led the Warhorses in nearly every offensive category as a senior. He hit over the .500 mark for much of the season and finished with a .484 batting average. His 31 hits were a team high. He tied junior Trent Smith for the most doubles, with five.
Westbrock also had four triples and was one of only two Warhorses to hit a home run in 2018.
Joining his fellow Owen players there on signing day were a number of blue and gold-wearing players from Asheville Christian Academy. Westbrock attended school and played there in 2017.
He appeared in 14 games for the ACA Lions that year and was the team’s second-leading hitter, batting .350.
Lee believes Westbrock will have an impact on the program at UNCA. “He’s a gifted ball player, and I know he’ll help them,” he said.
Westbrock’s father, Jeff Westbrock, said he was “extremely proud” and called his son’s journey in the sport from childhood to college an “incredible” one. “We couldn’t be happier for Will,” he said. “This has always been his dream.”
His son started playing baseball as a youngster in Jacksonville, Florida, where it's always baseball season. “He’s been saying he wants to play college ball since he was five,” his father said. “He’s always put in the effort to make that happen.”
"From the time I picked up a bat, I fell in love with (baseball),” Will Westbrock said. “I played my whole life. Once I was in high school and drew some interest from colleges, I thought ‘wow, I could actually do this.’”
He looks forward to the college experience, but he’s even more excited to face Big South Conference competition for the Bulldogs.
“I just love that playing baseball is going to be like a job,” he said. “I can’t wait.”