On the first night of play in the Arizona Fall League, Orioles outfield prospect Heston Kjerstad crushed a homer to right-center and he’s been hitting ever since. Today it seems quite likely that he will be selected to play in the AFL’s Fall Stars game this Sunday. He is taking part in the AFL Home Run Derby on Saturday.
Through Wednesday in 19 AFL games, Kjerstad has hit .353/.385/.624 with a 1.009 OPS, eight doubles, five homers and 17 RBIs. He was tied for the AFL homer lead and ranks sixth in the league in OPS.
Jim Callis, senior writer for MLBPipeline.com, saw Kjerstad play in person earlier in the AFL season.
“On opening day, I saw him hit a massive home run at Scottsdale Stadium,” said Callis. “The good news for Orioles fans is he looks like the guy, the No. 2 pick in the draft from a few years ago. He looks like the guy I thought was the best left-handed college power hitter in that draft. I had seen him at the College World Series in the past and he’s got big left-handed power. It's power over hit (tool). He’s got about a 30 percent strikeout rate in the Fall League. He’s always had some strikeouts but still managed to hit for average if that makes sense.
“He looks like the type of guy that could hit .260 with maybe 30 homers. He’s not a blazing runner or anything, but he moves well enough. He’s got a strong arm. I haven’t talked to the Orioles since I’ve seen him, but I have to think they are quite pleased with how he’s looked.”
Kjerstad was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, who then had to wait 27 months to play his first pro game this past June due to myocarditis and a hamstring issue in the spring.
The 23-year-old hit .309 with an OPS of .851 in 65 games this year. He got off to a slow start when he moved up from Single-A Delmarva to High-A Aberdeen, but had a solid finish with the IronBirds. That included going 7-for-16 at the end of the regular season and then batting .261 in six playoff games with two doubles, a homer and six RBIs.
“I’m excited about what he is doing in the Fall League, but you have to take Fall League stats with a grain of salt,” added Callis. “Because it’s a small sample size for one, but the hitters are a lot better than the pitchers. Teams generally won’t send a pitcher who reached his innings limit. Or maybe it is someone that was hurt during the year. I think there were about 16 of our top 100 prospects that are in the AFL and two are pitchers. There is not a ton of pitching depth in the league.
“But you do get to see a lot of good prospects, especially on the position player side. Over the years, something like 60 percent of the players in the AFL have gone on to play in the big leagues. A typical game you are probably seeing eight or 10 future big leaguers for each team. Some guys you don’t have to wait a lot on. Bryson Stott (of the Phillies) was starring in the Fall League last year (with a .943 OPS) and he’s playing in the World Series right now. There will be players in this Fall League making an impact in the majors next year.
“But I’m just encouraged how he is performing there, how the ball is coming off his bat. He looks like the guy I saw at Arkansas, so that’s a great sign.”
Baseball America rates Kjerstad as the O’s No. 8 prospect and MLB Pipeline as No. 9. He gets a 45 grade hit tool from MLB Pipeline and 50 from Baseball America, with 60 grade power from MLB Pipeline and 70 power from Baseball America.
“I think he is going to be a guy that can hit 30 homers, hits .250 or .260, and might strikeout 150 times or something. That is kind of what he was at Arkansas too,” said Callis.
A right fielder, Kjerstad gets 50 fielding grades, and 55 or 60 for his arm.
“I think he is probably an average right fielder with a solid to plus arm," Callis said. "I don’t think he will be a plus defender, but he’s a decent athlete for his size."
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