Minor league notes on Kjerstad, Florida campers and more

Once he finally got on the field this past season in June, O’s outfield prospect Heston Kjerstad was tearing it up at Single-A Delmarva, batting .463 in 22 games. He didn’t produce similar numbers when he moved up to High-A Aberdeen – yes, that would have been hard to do – but had another great run in the Arizona Fall League.

Kjerstad won the Joe Black MVP Award in the AFL, putting him in the same company as previous winners such as Nolan Arenado (2011), Kris Bryant (2013) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (2017). And Kjerstad’s strong AFL showing could mean he will begin the 2023 season with Double-A Bowie and not return to Aberdeen.

“I would say that would be an intelligent guess,” O’s director of player development Matt Blood said recently about Kjerstad moving up to begin next season.

In 43 games with the IronBirds in the regular season, he batted .233/.312/.362 with a .674 OPS, but his bat heated up in the final games of the season, and that carried over both into the South Atlantic League playoffs and into AFL play.

In 22 games in Arizona, Kjerstad, taken second overall by the Orioles in the 2020 MLB Draft, hit .357/.385/.622 with a 1.007 OPS, nine doubles, a triple, five homers and 17 RBIs. He led the AFL in hits (35), doubles, extra-base hits and total bases (61). He tied for third in homers and RBIs, and was sixth in OPS.

“I just like that once he got healthy, he played through the season and went to Arizona and hit the ball hard," Blood said. "A lot of extra-base hits. I’m just happy for him that he is progressing in the right direction and was doing things that are exciting for his future. Set himself up for next year."

Camping in Florida: The Orioles just completed the third of what they call Florida Complex League camps for players at their spring training facilities in Sarasota, Fla. There will be more camps later. These camps, the latest one wrapping up Nov. 17, do not use the traditional instructional league model, but focus more on weight room training and skill development.

The latest camp was all pitchers with this group attending:

LHP Jared Beck
RHP Bradley Brehmer
RHP Trace Bright
RHP Moises Chace
RHP Daniel Federman
RHP Harif Frias
RHP Chayce McDermott
RHP Trey Nordmann
RHP Juan Nuñez
RHP Alex Pham
RHP Jean Pinto
LHP José Ramirez
RHP Eris Rodríguez
RHP Juan Rojas
RHP Reese Sharp
RHP Peter Van Loon
RHP Cameron Weston

“It was a chance for our pitching coaches to do some very deliberate work with some specific players in regards to their developmental goals as they get their offseason training started,” Blood said.

That can include a wide variety of aspects for pitchers – everything from improving spin rates and deliveries to pitch shape and design and understanding better what their arsenal of pitches should truly look like.

“Lot of different areas, but it’s really working on movement quality and refining areas they need to improve on and also gives them clarity on how they should be attacking these things going into the rest of the winter," he said. 

This is very different than back in the day when teams might have checked in on their players to get their winter throwing in. This is much more targeted.

“A lot of that is driven from either the motion capture report or from their TrackMan data,” said Blood.

The motion capture reports can be generated at the Orioles new pitching lab in Bel Air, Md., among other places. Sort of a computer generation of body movements. It can create a full biomechanics report on how pitchers move, areas they should focus on, how to make deliveries more efficient and can even show areas producing red flags that could lead to a future injury.

Asche still involved with farm: The Orioles recently announced the addition of Cody Asche to their big league staff as offensive strategy coach. And while Asche’s work now takes him to the major league level, this doesn’t mean he is done dealing with some minor league hitters. Asche still could be checking in with some farm hitters next year to provide guidance, just not physically be there with them as he was last year.

Asche joined the Baltimore organization in 2022 as an upper-level hitting coordinator on the farm. He began his pro coaching career in 2021 as the hitting coach for the Clearwater Threshers, the Single-A affiliate of the Phillies. He played parts of five seasons with the Phillies (2013-16) and White Sox (2017).

“It’s not like we’ve lost the person, we just sort of reallocated him," said Blood. "He is still going to be communicating with and involved with the minor league side. Just probably not as present physically. We’re very invested in those players, so he will still have an influence in that way."

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