The Orioles were tied mostly to college position players in the months leading up to the 2020 MLB Draft, which is the direction Baltimore went on draft night – but the club threw a curveball with regard to the player it took.
The Orioles were linked to Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin and to a lesser extent New Mexico State’s Nick Gonzales in mock drafts, but Baltimore took Arkansas right fielder Heston Kjerstad with the No. 2 pick. Should Kjerstad sign with the Orioles, he will become a key building block for the future of the team along with catcher Adley Rutschman, who was drafted No. 1 overall out of Oregon State last June.
Before the draft, Kjerstad said he would be thrilled to be taken by the rebuilding Orioles. He’ll also have a chance to reunite with former Razorbacks teammate Blaine Knight, a right-handed pitcher in the Orioles’ system who advanced to High-A Frederick last year.
“Coming up in an organization that’s rebuilding is really cool [and] to be part of a group that’s supposed to come in and flip a team around and do something special together,” Kjerstad said on Glenn Clark Radio June 9. “I think that gives it a little more of a college feel than most pro teams because you’re going to be part of a group of guys that come up together through the minor leagues and you’re able to work for something together and reach that goal together.”
Kjerstad hit .345/.425/.587 with the Razorbacks from 2018-2020 and .448/.513/.791 during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Kjerstad hit .395/.426/.651 in 14 games for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team last summer.
Orioles and SEC Network broadcaster Ben McDonald recently brought up Kjerstad as a possible sleeper pick for the Orioles.
Kjerstad is a “big, powerful right fielder that can really throw and he can really hit and he can hit for power, one of the best hitters in the country,” McDonald said on GCR June 3. “I think he’s a little bit of a sleeper in all this. I still think the Orioles are going to take Martin because of his athleticism, but I wouldn’t be shocked, if they decide to go position player, if they did take a Heston Kjerstad because he’s a big-time bat as well.
“But his defense – and every one of these players has something they’ve really, really got to work on – is not nearly as good in the outfield as you’d like to see a big-league outfielder be.”
Kjerstad was a consensus top-10 pick heading into the draft but was not expected to go as high as No. 2. Baltimore may be angling to cut an under-slot deal with Kjerstad and use the savings on high schoolers with expensive price tags with picks 30 and/or 39. The slot value for the No. 2 overall pick is approximately $7.8 million, and Baltimore’s bonus pool is $13.9 million.
With the draft being just five rounds and the Orioles having only six picks, the margin for error is thin in this draft regardless of the strategy the club takes.
“If you’re the Yankees or the Red Sox, it’s not that big of a deal to you but it is to the Orioles because it hurts them in some ways,” McDonald said of the five-round draft. “When you draft a guy now, you’ve got to know you can sign him. You can’t miss. Mike Elias is under a lot of pressure, obviously, because all of his picks really matter. It’s going to be under the microscope and people are really going to look at it and grade it down the road.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Arkansas Athletics