Scout on Orioles' player development: “Hitters have improved all year"

A byproduct of the Arizona Fall League is the chance for scouts to get their eyes on certain players, whether for the first time or to continue evaluating and filing reports.

There’s a popular theory in baseball that allowing prospects to play in the AFL who need to be protected in the Rule 5 draft is risky because other organizations could be swayed to select them.

The Orioles are safe with outfielder Heston Kjerstad. He doesn’t need to go on the 40-man roster.

He just needs to stay healthy and keep swinging the bat as he’s done in Arizona.

Kjerstad went 3-for-4 with his first triple on Friday to raise his average to .371 with a 1.063 OPS. His 33 hits and nine doubles before yesterday led the AFL, his five home runs tied for second and his 17 RBIs and .663 slugging percentage ranked third.

Kjerstad was the only player in the American League lineup to log nine innings in Sunday’s Fall Stars Game, and he had a full day. An RBI single in the fifth inning, a walk, a strikeout and a fielding error in right field.

Noah Denoyer, who is eligible for the Rule 5 draft, started for the AL side and allowed an unearned run in the first inning with a hit and walk.

Kjerstad participated in Saturday’s Home Run Derby and reached the finals before losing 11-10 to Mariners prospect Robert Perez Jr.

I recently spoke with a scout from outside the organization who offered Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber as a comp to Kjerstad and said, "Pop at the plate, he hits it hard, and you take what you get on defense because you want to have the bat in the lineup every day. He’s interesting. He has a chance to be an everyday big leaguer. He’s got power to all fields. He can go to the off-gap like, it’s easy for him.”

Another scout praised Kjerstad and the Orioles’ player development staff via a series of messages.

“Hitters have improved all year,” he wrote. “(Colton) Cowser, (Joey) Ortiz, (Connor) Norby all way better in September than when I saw them in March and April. Very impressive.

“I know Kjerstad is swinging and missing some, but I am in on the approach. The swing, the body, he’s run well. If he defends, he could be an impact guy.

“It is an almost all-analytics approach to player development, but they have coaches who think that way and are solid at communicating. I am impressed. Still don’t see a ton of arms, but the bats are intriguing.”

Kjerstad received 186 plate appearances with High-A Aberdeen after his promotion from Single-A Delmarva, and the Orioles must decide whether he returns to the IronBirds to begin the 2023 season or jumps to Double-A Bowie at age 24. The 98 plate appearances with Single-A Delmarva before his promotion must be factored. And the wise move of sending him to the AFL could make it easier for the Orioles to introduce him to the Eastern League.

They’ve been slow-playing Kjerstad for the obvious reasons – his myocarditis diagnosis and strained hamstring – but this is one way to accelerate his development and rise through the system.

Cowser, the Orioles’ first-round selection in 2021, is set to make his major league debut next season after reaching Triple-A Norfolk in August. MLBPipeline.com sets Kjerstad’s arrival in 2024, but perhaps an early assignment to Bowie changes the timeline.

What matters now are his good health and how it’s just about baseball again. How he’s doing the things that the Orioles, and Kjerstad, envisioned on the night of the 2020 draft.

* Norby, a second-round pick in 2021 who’s expected to make his major league debut next summer, has been named an Eastern League All-Star.

The second baseman appeared in 64 games with Bowie and slashed .298/.389/.571 with 14 doubles, two triples, 17 home runs and 46 RBIs in 296 plate appearances. He walked 34 times and struck out 59.

The Orioles promoted Norby to Norfolk on Sept. 20, his third affiliate of the year, and he went 14-for-39 (.359) with two doubles, four home runs and seven RBIs in nine games.

MLBPipeline.com ranks Norby as the No. 11 prospect in the system.

* The Orioles’ third Florida Complex League camp is underway in Sarasota and runs through Nov. 17. Others will follow on later dates.

As the club explains it, these camps don’t use the traditional instructional league model and instead focus on weight room training and skill development. They aren’t open to the public.

The following minor leaguers are participating in the current camp:

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

* In case you missed yesterday’s tweet, the Orioles announced the return of every coach to manager Brandon Hyde’s staff for the 2023 season, and promoted Cody Asche to offensive strategy coach.

Asche was upper-level hitting coordinator this year, his first with the Orioles.

Here's the story I wrote last month about the coaching staff.

* Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is attending the general managers meetings this week in Las Vegas. He was asked yesterday during an interview with MLB Network's Jon Morosi about the interest from other clubs in outfielder Anthony Santander.

Elias mentioned how Santander has been "a popular guy" with other teams, and his importance to the Orioles as a power-hitter from both sides of the plate, primarily in the third spot in the order, as a strong defender in right field and as a clubhouse leader.

"We see no real strategy in moving him, and I’m excited he’s coming back for the next two years," Elias said. "But obviously, we do our jobs and we listen to people.”

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