Heston Kjerstad, the second overall pick by the Orioles in the 2020 MLB Draft, will not attend the team’s fall instructional league camp because of an undisclosed medical, non-sports reason, according to general manager Mike Elias.
The camp opened Oct. 5 at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla., and will run through the end of this month. The camp is being run by Aberdeen IronBirds manager Kevin Bradshaw.
Kjerstad was widely regarded as the best left-handed college hitter in the country this past season and has the potential to make a long-term impact in the middle of the lineup. He also is a solid defensive outfielder.
However, the Orioles will have to wait to get a further evaluation of him.
“It’s not great,” Elias said. “I think the fact that he is an advanced high-level college hitter makes it a little less concerning that he ended up not getting much organized activity this year. Looks like that will be the case. So that makes it, I think, a little more tolerable just because we feel he’s a pretty polished hitter and will be able to pick up next spring where he left off.
“But for all these guys this has been a concerning year, and certainly this would not have been our plan. This has been a hard year to predict the future.”
Even without Kjerstad, the Orioles have invited an impressive group of 55 key prospects to the camp, including former No. 1 pick Adley Rutschman, pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall and infielders Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg.
Prospects who will not attend because of reasons not related to health are pitchers Cody Sedlock, Alexander Wells and Gray Fenter. Elias declined to get into details with those players. Pitcher Michael Baumann is dealing with a flexor strain in his right forearm, but Elias said that he was able to amass enough innings at the Bowie this summer and would not have attended the fall camp even if he was healthy.
International players based in Venezuela cannot attend the camp because of travel restrictions related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and some of the Dominican players acquired in recent trades are still waiting for their visas to be cleared and also will not attend.
The club’s farm system ranks as the eighth best in baseball and includes five players listed among the top 100 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.
“Obviously, this takes on special meaning this year with the lack of a minor-league season due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Elias said. “It’s going to be a very important player development, player evaluation, player planning event for our organization and we’ve devoted a lot of organizational resources toward having a successful camp in Sarasota.”
Orioles pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training Feb. 16, and the first full-squad workout is set for Feb. 22, 2021. Several prospects at the October camp, including Rutschman, will likely report to Sarasota with the big-league club at that time.
“I think the biggest value that we’re going to draw out of this other than a few weeks of development is getting plugged in with these guys,” Elias said. “Getting our hands on them for a little bit so we have a very clear plan for them for the rest of the winter when they go home and we have a good sense of where they left off and what they need to do and what they need to work on.
“And a lot of these guys are just flat-out new to the organization, so I think there will be a small degree of evaluation there.”
Here is the full list of attendees for the fall camp:
Right-Handed Pitchers (17): Carter Baumler, Randy Beriguete, Kyle Brnovich, Noah Denoyer, RHP Connor Gillispie, Thomas Girard, Dan Hammer, Blaine Knight, Héctor López, Morgan McSweeney, RHP Zach Peek, Ofelky Peralta, Shelton Perkins, Grayson Rodriguez, Houston Roth, Luis Sánchez, Kade Strowd and Brandon Young.
Left-Handed Pitchers (6): DL Hall, Zac Lowther, Easton Lucas, Zach Muckenhirn, Luis Ortiz, Drew Rom
Catchers (6): Jordan Cannon, Brett Cumberland, Maverick Handley, Ricardo Rivera, Cody Roberts and Adley Rutschman
Infielders (17): Rylan Bannon, José Cosma, Andrew Daschbach, Adam Hall, Gunnar Henderson, Darell Hernaiz, Roberto Martínez, Coby Mayo, Joey Ortiz, Erinson Placencia, James Rolle, Leonel Sánchez, Anthony Servideo, Dax Stubbs, Terrin Vavra, Toby Welk and Jordan Westburg
Outfielders (8): Stiven Acevedo, Isaac Bellony, Luis González, Dylan Harris, Hudson Haskin, Johnny Rizer, Kyle Stowers and Zach Watson
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles