In Aberdeen, Heston Kjerstad talks about his promotion to the IronBirds

ABERDEEN, Md. – He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. But outfielder Heston Kjerstad of the Orioles would not play his first minor league game until this year on June 10 – exactly two years to the day that the Orioles selected him in round one.

He put it this way this afternoon in steamy Aberdeen when discussing dealing with first myocarditis and then in March a hamstring issue that further delayed his pro debut.

“Had a minor setback for a major comeback,” Kjerstad said at Ripken Stadium where he will debut tonight for the high Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds after playing 22 games for Low Single-A Delmarva.

The long wait to see Kjerstad get on the field is finally over for him and O’s fans. And that phrase he used today was one that evolved among players working to comeback from injuries at O’s camp in Sarasota, Fla.

“It was kind of we were throwing that around a lot in Sarasota with the rehab group. Kind of the lingo we used to stay more positive. Going through injuries isn’t the most positive experience sometimes.”

But Kjerstad has surely been making up for lost time and after tearing it up with the Shorebirds he moves up to a new level today.

“You know, just ready for a new challenge. Another level of play. Just continue doing what I’ve been doing and keep enjoying playing baseball,” he said.

“It’s the same game (at a higher level). There will be a lot of great pitchers I’m going to face and it’s just going to be selling out to my approach and just competing. And see what I can do.

The 23-year-old from the University of Arkansas was hitting so well at Delmarva that, even when his batting average reached .418 recently, he still raised it his last four games when he went 9-for-13 at the end for the Shorebirds.

So he left Delmarva with a batting line of .463/.551/.650/1.201 with nine doubles, two homers, 17 runs and 17 RBIs. He went 37-for-80 with 13 walks and 17 strikeouts.

“The things that were working best – I was just spraying the ball to all parts of the field. Also just managing my at-bats and competing. Putting the ball in play hard and it was getting pretty good results.

“I was spraying the ball really well, lot of line drives and everything. To me that’s really good because normally I tend to fly out a little too much so getting the ball more on a line helps me find balls gap-to-gap a little bit more.”

And he said he showed some power with Delmarva as well.

“There are not many guys that can poke a ball out down the left-field line. If you can do that you’ve got pretty good juice,” said Kjerstad, who hit 37 homers in 150 games in college for the Razorbacks.

Despite the great stats he put up with Delmarva, Kjerstad said today he did have to knock off some rust when he got into games.

“I had a little bit. Still refining my approach. And, you know, its baseball, no matter how good you are doing. I’m still missing pitches here and there. You are still trying to be perfect and you never will be,” he said.

But while he had just two hitless games among his 22 with the Shorebirds, he had 13 multi-hit games.

Kjerstad was a big-time hitter in the SEC and even though he enjoys the O’s hitting program, he feels his approach is about what it was when in college.

“I would say I’m still pretty similar. There is probably some maturity in my at-bats that’s happened just from watching the game and also just focusing in on some things in my at-bats. But for the most part pretty similar to the way I felt in college,” he said.

Kjerstad is playing right field and batting fourth for Aberdeen tonight as the IronBirds open up a week-long series with Jersey Shore at home at 7:05 p.m. 

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