In his 42 years of coaching high school baseball, White County’s John Brown can think of only one player that demonstrated more power than Brett Westmoreland did in 2013.
That player was Glenn Davis, one of Brown’s proteges at University Christian School in Jacksonville during the late 1970s. Davis went on to play 11 years in Major League Baseball, becoming a two-time All-Star and winning a Silver Slugger Award in 1986.
It’s some exclusive company for Westmoreland to be part of. His .538 average made him only the fourth player to hit over .500 under Brown.
“That doesn’t happen too often,” Brown said. “We were expecting a lot of good things out of Brett, because he’s just a good kid and he works really hard on his hitting.”
Westmoreland paired his stunning average with a team-high 13 home runs, 34 RBIs and a staggering 1.203 slugging percentage to become one of the area’s most feared hitters. The senior was a driving force behind White County’s 17-10 season, which included the team’s third trip to the state playoffs in four years.
For his efforts, Westmoreland is The Times Hitter of the Year.
“I told myself that if I batted .450 I would be extremely happy,” Westmoreland said. “Never in my dreams could I have ever imagined I that I could hit as high as I did this year.”
Westmoreland’s impressive statistics cap off an unforgettable high school career with the Warriors that sent a myriad of baseballs well beyond the confines of his home field in Cleveland.
The 6-foot, 225-pound first baseman became known this past season for his tape-measure shots well into the 400-foot range. His hardest-hit shot landed in the White County softball field, more than 50 feet past the outfield walls.
His improved power also ignited some streaks of pure dominance, including a two-game span that featured six home runs from Apr. 10-15. He ripped three in each game, pushing his average above .600 at the time.
“A lot of people have known the last few years that if you throw me inside, that’s been my spot,” Westmoreland said. “One thing I worked on this season was to focus more up the middle of the field, and just waiting as long as I can to cut it loose and let it go.
“I felt like I kept more power on my back side, and when I finally came through everything exploded.”
Opposing pitchers began to realize what kind of damage Westmoreland could do at the plate during the second half of the season, and he found himself receiving free passes to first on a regular basis. He walked a team-high 24 times.
Regardless, it was exactly the kind of season he wanted out of his senior campaign. He improved his average by 96 points between 2012 and 2013, and he trumped his previous season best of nine home runs, tallied his sophomore year.
Westmoreland signed with Young Harris before his final year even began, erasing any potential pressure of impressing scouts and landing a scholarship.
“After signing with Young Harris, I was more relaxed — I didn’t have any worries anymore,” Westmoreland said. “Honestly, the ball just flew. I can’t explain it. The ball would swing, and it was like I made full contact every time I hit.”
Westmoreland intends to make an immediate impact as a freshman, potentially as a position player in the field as well. Brown says his defensive abilities need some fine-tuning, and he could be better suited for a designated hitter role at the college level.
“If you give him the bat, he’ll hit all the time,” Brown said. “It’s probably to his disadvantage, because he probably doesn’t work on his other skills as much as he should.”
Westmoreland knows his talents lie at the plate. He’s been devoting the summer to tweaking his swing with his hitting coach.
He trains at least once a week, more commonly two days. His actual playing time has been limited to a handful of American Legion games based out of Dawsonville.
“There were a few things back then that I knew had to be changed,” Westmoreland said. “As hot as I was, (my hitting coach) said he’d be a fool to change things back that then. So he said in the offseason we’ll work on some stuff.
“I’ve been trying use my back leg a little more, and I feel like that will improve my bat speed as well.”
If all goes according to plan, Young Harris might have a few more baseballs buried behind its outfield walls in 2014.
“Like anybody going to college, I want to play early and do anything I can to help my team,” Westmoreland said. “I just want to help make a difference whether that’s on the field or as a role player.”