|12 XBH, 18 RBI|
Up until this point, the baseball career of J.D. Orr has been about three As: athleticism, architecture and astonishment. By way of those three adjectives, the 23-year-old Ohio native has gone from standing out in two different sports to being a huge catalyst in leading a fairly new baseball program to some of their best and longest-tenured success to most recently seeing that talent translate to the professional level the slightest hint of a hiccup. All of that has culminated in Orr playing some of the best baseball of his career at the highest level this season. Accordingly, the Marlins’ 10th round pick has earned our 2019 Prospect Of The Year Award.
A player of nearly every sport that approached him as a child, Orr limited his talents to just two when high school came calling: baseball and football. Saying Orr stood out in both ventures would be an understatement. He was named an All-Ohio state player in both and was being visited by scouts and recruiters during his time on both the gridiron and the diamond. According to J.D. though, when decision time came, choosing baseball over football was a better fit for both his physical and mental faculties.
“I was a pretty good football player too and all the way up until my junior year I was trying to decide between the two. But seeing how my body was being beat up by football, I thought I’d have a better chance at a professional career in baseball because of my speed. My speed isn’t as rare in football as it is in baseball. So that’s what made the difference.”
Being a two-sport athlete in his prep years, Orr admits he wasn’t naturally suited to play baseball full-time at the next level. However, due to daily tutelage that fall and during his junior season, Orr says his WSU coaching staff quickly caught his mind up to his natural gifts and had him fully prepared to show his true grit in the 2017 season.
“I never really played baseball full time until I went to college so having all that practice in the fall was really helpful. I struggled at the beginning but I had a phenomenal coaching staff that developed players better than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Having them by my side helping me with everything from my body growth to my approach at the plate was awesome. I give them all the credit in the world for the way they worked with me and taught me how to play baseball the right way.”
Looking back on his time at Wright State, Orr champions the environment and attitude surrounding the program, an ethnology imprinted upon it by the coaching staff. According to JD, that was what drew him to attend the school and what he tried to further as a team leader during his final collegiate season.
“That was one of the main reasons I went to [Wright State]. It was a program in the rise. I loved the culture there; they’re huge on development. The coaches are top of the line in developing players. I wanted to be part of that culture. It was great to help the progression of that school.
Enter the 2019 MLB Draft. After scouts took notice of J.D. during the second half of his historic junior season, his positive attitude and drive imparted on him by an extremely attentive coaching staff paid off when he heard his name called 291st overall. Joining Orr in the professional ranks were four of his teammates, making it the most Wright State-occupier draft in program history. Orr believes he and the other Raiders selected left an imprint on the program: you work and play properly, you get results.
“It was really rewarding not only for myself but my teammates. They’re all great players with great work ethic so to see that hard work pay off in the Draft that was a really cool thing,” Orr said. “We had a great core of guys that just knew hard work was so important to the organization. We taught the younger kids how to play the game. We always played hard and we never took days off. That’s the mark I wanted to leave on the program: you don’t ever skip reps and you don’t skip practices, because down the road, it all pays off.”
Another member of the quintet of Wright State players selected in the 2019 Draft was Orr’s very good friend and fellow team leader Peyton Burdick. What’s more is that Burdick and Orr were recognized by the same Marlins scout, Nate Adcock and wound up being continuous teammates upon their jump to the next level. According to WSU recruiting director Nate Metzger, Adcock should be commended for his ability to recognize and recommend talent in up-and-coming baseball avenues.
“Nate spent a lot of time with us. He really got to know them & loved the makeup,” Metzger said.. “Those guys may not have 80 tools, but they are 80 makeup. (Adcock) deserves a lot of credit.”
According to Orr, having the 82nd overall pick by his side during his side during his transition to pro ball has been a penultimate factor in his success, both on and off the field.
“Winding up on the same team was both awesome and huge. I’m a big home boy so going down to Florida that first week and not being by myself but being with Peyton was great,” Orr said. “I don’t handle change as well as he and he’s a very outgoing person so having him by my side and just figuring out this whole new culture w were becoming a part of was awesome. It really helped me.”
Regarding Orr and Burdick’s relationship, Metzger testified to Burdick being the yin to Orr’s yang.
“J.D. is a loner & Peyton life if the party forsure. But J.D. can handle himself, too,” Metzger said. “He was one who at times was there to tell Burdick exactly what he thought if Peyton got a little frisky.”
When they weren’t driving each other to be their absolute best on the field, Orr and Burdick were engaged in mostly-friendly competition off the field. According to Metzger, the two ultimate adversaries would go to war on a surface that became well-known to the Marlins’ clubhouse this past spring.
“Those guys playing ping-pong: absolute war!” Metzger recalled. “They would play with no shirts on and the loser of every point had to wear a ball off the back hit by the other one as hard as they could hit it. They’d both wind up with welts all over their backs.”
While the Marlins’ training personnel will probably step in before it gets to that point, Orr and Burdick should be considered finals favorites for the entire-squad ping-pong tourney this spring.
It wasn’t always sunshine and butterflies for Orr during his tenure at WSU. During his first full season, he struggled to a .238/.333.350 slash line. So how did Orr turn it around to become one of the school’s top alumni? According to Orr, his coaches focused on tempering the repeatability in his mechanics and in adjusting his approach to both counts and situations to where now, instead of going up trying to hit the ball as hard as he can, Orr now has a plan. That coupled with his willingness and ability to both learn and adjust is what allotted him his collegiate success and made him an MLB-caliber talent.
“My coaches were very expressive with how important my approach is so I always go up and try to hit the ball to the left center field gap and then adjust to the inside pitch,” Orr said. “Having that mindset and staying calm and just taking what the pitching gives to me has really allowed me to make solid contact a good bit of the time. It has worked out more times than it hasn’t.”
Upon his arrival in the pro ranks this season, Orr, who never played summer ball as a student, was immediately faced with a new challenge: hitting with wood bats. Once again by using the ability to discipline his versatile mind and his by way of natural tools that allowed him to clear hurdles fairly quickly at WSU, Orr was once again able to adjust advantageously. According to Orr, it wasn’t about improving his connectivity or swing path; it was about overcoming an aversion.
“I think the biggest thing with the wood bats was not being afraid to break them,” Orr said. “This is the first time I’ve used them; I never played summer ball. At first I was kind of scared to break them but now I know it’s gonna he part of it. If I keep making contact, no matter how much you don’t want to break them.”
Despite all of the grandeur and excitement that has surrounded his career these past two years, Orr isn’t letting any of it goes to his extremely level head. Instead, he’s doing the same thing he has been doing little league: showing up for work, ready to go at 100% all the time and not sweating the obstinate.
“I try to go in every day with the same mindset to have quality at-bats and control what I can control,” Orr said. “I know there’s a lot of uncontrollable in baseball but hopefully I can just go up there and stay calm and keep doing what I’m doing.”
Standing 5’11”, 187, Orr makes up for his limited size by possessing a huge baseball IQ. With an already well-advanced knowledge of the strike zone, Orr selects his swings beneficially and adjusts to counts at will, a trait that allotted him a walk rate over 16% in his first professional season. Orr owns an extremely short swing that allows him to put his plus-plus plate vision to work. The quickness of Orr’s cut also gives him a bit of hidden power. Overall, Orr owns an extremely streamlined, catalytic approach coupled with his plus-plus foot speed and his unique on-base antics that allow him to continue to get in his opposition’s head even after he’s dropped the bat make Orr, who was once nicknamed the “Base Bandit”, a threat for extra bases whenever the ball is in play.
In the field, Orr has eligibility at all three outfield spots, but his speed will best be utilized in center, the spot he’s far and away most familiar with. With a ceiling comparable to Brett Gardner, a fully-grown Orr is a great candidate to either lead off or to occupy the two hole.
Can J.D. Orr go from being a collegiate state champion to Marlins’ spring training ping-pong king to a fixture at the top of the Miami lineup? Time will tell, but he is definitely off to a great start. After spring training, the Orr should make his return to the Midwest where he will make his full-season ball debut with the A Clinton LumberKings.