Two years to the day after the Orioles selected him second overall in the 2020 draft, outfielder Heston Kjerstad will play in his first game for an affiliate Friday.
After being activated from the injured list, Kjerstad is hitting third and playing designated hitter for Low-A Delmarva in his professional debut, completing the first step in his long-term goal.
“Over that time, what I learned most is how much I want to play the game of baseball,” Kjerstad said Friday on a video conference call. “It really put a perspective on how much I love the game and how I want to play it as long as I can. Now, putting in the work or whatever I’ve got to do to do that, it’s fun, because that’s all I want to do.”
Despite having not yet made his professional debut because of a heart condition and hamstring injury, Kjerstad, 23, remains the No. 10 prospect in the organization, according to Baseball America. However, two of the players ranked ahead of him were selected behind him in Baltimore’s 2020 draft class.
A left-handed slugger out of the University of Arkansas, Kjerstad developed myocarditis shortly after he was drafted, missing the Orioles’ fall instructional camp as a result. A recurrence of the issue caused him to miss the entirety of the 2021 season.
Finally cleared, Kjerstad spent the offseason training at the Orioles’ complex in Sarasota, Florida, and was expected to be a full participant in minor league spring training. But in an intrasquad game March 11, he suffered a severe left hamstring strain chasing a line drive to left field off the bat of Adley Rutschman, who preceded him by a year as Baltimore’s top draft pick.
“It was unfortunate and frustrating, because I was pumped to be at spring training and obviously counting down the days until we broke camp,” Kjerstad said. “It’s not fun to go through injuries. You never plan for them in your journey, you never think about them, but you’ve got to persevere through them, because it’s part of the game.”
Rutschman woke up the next morning with soreness in his right elbow, which proved to be a right tricep strain that also delayed the start of his season.
Afterward, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Kjerstad would be out eight to 12 weeks. He’s participated in extended spring training activities of late and joined the Shorebirds earlier this week before his official activation Friday.
“It’s been a journey to get to this moment,” Kjerstad said.
Kjerstad remains on a rehab progression for the hamstring injury and will rest regularly, only playing a handful of innings at a time initially.
“I can DH full games starting today,” Kjerstad said. “I’ll play outfield however many innings they allow me to. And then they’ll just slowly build me up over the next week or two to full games in the outfield and no restrictions after I complete those couple weeks of their progression plan.”
In three seasons at Arkansas, Kjerstad hit .343/.421/.590 with 37 home runs in 150 games, becoming a projected top 10 pick. Still, he was an unexpected selection at second overall, signing for $5.2 million, far below the pick’s slot value of $7.79 million. The savings allowed the Orioles to sign high schoolers Coby Mayo and Carter Baumler to above-slot deals; Mayo, a third baseman, is now their No. 5 prospect, while Baumler, a right-handed pitcher, ranks 20th and sixth among pitchers despite missing all of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
The player drafted first overall ahead of Kjerstad, Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson, has already reached the majors with the Detroit Tigers, as have pitchers Reid Detmers, the Los Angeles Angeles’ 10th overall pick, and Garrett Crochet, taken with the 11th pick by the Chicago White Sox.
Kjerstad said he has chatted with Torkelson, congratulating him when he made his major league debut. Torkelson sends him encouraging texts from time to time, too, telling Kjerstad to keep pushing to reach the highest level — even if it’s after his peers.
“Hopefully,” Kjerstad said, “I’ll be able to play against him soon.”
Source: Berkshire mont