Orioles Prospect Heston Kjerstad Approaching Baseball With Fresh Perspective

Now a full two years removed from the 2020 MLB Draft, former No. 2 overall pick Heston Kjerstad made his Minor League Baseball debut for Low-A Delmarva earlier this month.

During three seasons at the University of Arkansas, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound outfielder hit .343, crushed 37 home runs, drove home 129 runs and had an OPS north of 1.000. In the shortened 2020 season, Kjerstad slashed .448/.513/.791 and was named a Collegiate Baseball first-team All-American.

Shortly after the draft, Kjerstad developed myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), delaying the start of his professional baseball career. Despite the outlook not always seeming overly positive, Kjerstad worked with Baltimore’s medical staff to get back to the level of play he displayed during his tenure in Fayetteville, Ark.

“I could never [have] made peace with [not playing again], and the medical staff with the Orioles were great through the whole process. It wasn’t a matter of if I’d be playing baseball, it was a matter of when we’d get everything on track and get me healthy to play again and get on the field,” Kjerstad said on Glenn Clark Radio June 17. “It was tough to stay positive but at the end of the day there was always light at the end of the tunnel.”

While the Orioles’ medical staff has helped Kjerstad get back into baseball shape, his mother Jody and father Dave kept him afloat the past couple of years.

“Without a doubt my parents, I leaned on them the most, they were there for me through everything. And also my siblings,” Kjerstad said. “I’ve always been close to my parents and really close with my siblings so any time I was down or going through it, they knew before I’d even tell them … they’d make sure I stay positive.”

Kjerstad currently sits in Low-A at 23 years old. Before Kjerstad even played in his first minor league game, three other 2020 first-round selections — Spencer Torkelson, Reid Detmers, and Garrett Crochet — made their big league debuts.

Infielder Jordan Westburg was taken 30th overall by Baltimore in the same draft as Kjerstad and has already shot up the minors. After playing for Delmarva, High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie in 2021, Westburg started off 2022 in Bowie and was recently promoted to Triple-A Norfolk.

“Of course I want to move up the ranks and levels as fast as I can but at the end of the day I’ve just got to become the best player I can become, whether I’m in Low-A, High-A, Double-A, wherever,” Kjerstad said. “I get that opportunity every day to go out there and work on my craft and that’s what matters.”

Kjerstad was set to make his professional debut at the start of the 2022 season but was sidelined because of a left hamstring strain suffered in an intrasquad game in mid-March, pushing back the next chapter of his baseball journey even further.

Kjerstad, the Orioles’ No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline, finally made his minor league debut with the Shorebirds June 10 and has seemingly picked up right where he left off at Arkansas. Kjerstad has recorded a hit in all but one of his eight games. He is hitting at a .400 clip in 30 at-bats entering play June 22.

It would certainly be great for Kjerstad if he can keep his hot start rolling throughout rest of the season. But if he goes through a slump at some point, he hopes the past two years has provided him with a positive outlook each day he steps foot on a baseball diamond.

“An 0-for-4 day at the park is not ideal. It’s not a good day for being a baseball player. But at the end of the day, being able to go to the ballpark and have an opportunity to play the game and be able to get paid to play the game is a great thing to do in your daily life. I truly believe that. I truly understand that now,” Kjerstad said. “Sometimes you lose that perspective being a baseball player, how good you have it.”

For more from Kjerstad, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Joey Gardner