Even though the Tigers already had a star in Miguel Cabrera parked at first base, the Tigers plucked Aaron Westlake in the third round of the 2011 draft. Immediately after finding out, Westlake became excited to get to work and felt honored to have been drafted in the first place.
"You go through the process of taking calls from different teams and meeting with different scouts, but in the end, it's all up in the air," says Westlake. "When I found out I had been drafted, it was just a great feeling. You never know when and if you're going to be drafted so when you do, it's just an honor."
Hailing from Redding, California, the 6-foot-4, 235 pound lefty always had confidence in his game and from an early age, knew he wanted to play baseball. Emulating the sweet swing of his favorite player Ken Griffey, Jr. and spending countless hours hitting batting practice and honing his skills with his father, Westlake decided to head 2,000 miles east to attend Vanderbilt University for a shot at playing in the College World Series.
"One of the reasons why I wanted to go to Vanderbilt was because they were an up and coming program. They had never made it past the regional round so my biggest goal was to make it to the World Series."
During his junior year his dream came true when, after helping knock off Oregon State in a game where he belted three home runs, his team was on its way to Omaha for the College World Series for the first time in Vanderbilt school history. Though Vandy didn't come away victorious, Westlake wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.
"Kids go to college because they want to play in the [College] World Series so playing there in front of 25,000 fans was unbelievable. You can't really ask for anything more out of your college experience."
So now after four years of college ball, Westlake is making the transition to professional ball, which he describes as an entirely different kind of grind. In college where he'd play a maximum of five times a week, he's playing anywhere from 15, 16, or maybe even 17 days in a row in different cities all over the place. But his time in college not only helped him prepare for the grind, but also made him tough mentally.
"I learned a lot of things while at college and not all things just on the field. Because I was away from my family, I learned to take care of myself. I was taught to have a routine and a plan for every day that you come to the field. Having that same routine and planting yourself in it allows for things to become a lot easier; you're not rushing and you're always prepared. In the pros, you have your coaches but in the end, you are your own coach. You know yourself the best."
What Westlake learned and took from him from his college days has definitely paid off early on. Reaching base safely in the Whitecaps' first 13 games, he batted .320 during that stretch with five multiple hit games, five doubles and seven RBI. With the fast start offensively in his first full professional season, Westlake still emphasized the biggest difference between collegiate and professional baseball: the wooden bat.
"The wood bats are the biggest adjustment. In college, the metal bat is a lot lighter with a bigger barrel so with wood bats, you don't always get as solid of contact. The balls don't always get through the infield and you have to have a much more compact swing."
Adjusting his swing to fit the style of a wooden bat, his solid start has also excited his manager Ernie Young. Young cites his first baseman as part of a deadly combo batting behind fellow power hitter Dean Green. "The three-four combo that we have right now with Green and Westlake is great to have," says the second year manager. "They really feed off each other."
And Westlake, when asked what it's like to follow a bat like Green, smiles and says what a luxury it is. "It's really nice. He's a good offensive hitter and he's nice to bat behind. Since he's always going to hit the ball hard and get on base, it makes it a lot easier for me to drive in runs."
Driving in runs and making the opposing pitchers pay is something he hopes to improve upon and get better at as the season progresses. He can hardly contain his excitement with the team he's with and with the guys he's gotten to know from playing with most of them last year during short season.
"We've got a good team. We trust one another and pick each other up. A lot of us got to play together last year in short season so we already started to mold together as a team then. I'm definitely excited to play the rest of the season with these guys."
Back to the confidence that he has always had in himself – he knows he may not be a first baseman when he makes it to the parent club, but that won't stop him from going out and playing hard every day while being willing to do whatever it takes to keep improving.
"I just go out there and play as hard as I can and as well I can up to my ability. The rest will just fall into place."