ABERDEEN, Md. – He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft and outfielder Heston Kjerstad was playing like it at low Single-A Delmarva, where he went 37-for-80 in 22 games. Yes, that is prolific hitting and makes you wonder if after moving to high Single-A Aberdeen this week whether a move to Double-A later this year is in reach for Kjerstad.
Earlier this week, after his promotion to the IronBirds, I asked O’s director of player development Matt Blood about the 23-year-old outfielder. The Orioles surely are confident that Kjerstad will do well with the IronBirds, but they also know that last summer Gunnar Henderson went 1-for-31 to start his time with Aberdeen.
“He’s definitely going to face challenges. We’ll see,” said Blood. “We’re expecting him to perform well but any player can go through a slump. Great players in the major leagues go through them. We’ll see how it goes for him but we’re expecting him to continue to play well.”
So could the club move him to Double-A later this summer?
“It’s the same answer I would give you on any player,” said Blood. “We keep track of performance and their age and we like to challenge the player. So, if they show us they have bypassed the level, then we start considering them needing a greater challenge. He’s not different than anyone else.”
But he is different in one sense. He has missed so much time in dealing first with myocarditis and then with a hamstring issue earlier this season. When he made his pro debut with Delmarva on June 10, it was exactly two years to the day after the O’s selected him in the first round.
So if he does play at three levels this year, he would perhaps really begin making up for some lost time.
“That is something that is part of his story, part of his player profile. So yes, that is something we would have to take into consideration,” Blood acknowledged.
So it seems Double-A could be within reach for Kjerstad if he excels at Aberdeen, where his scheduled IronBirds debut was rained out last night. He was scheduled to bat fourth and play right field before the rain hit.
In 22 games with the Shorebirds, Kjerstad was putting up sensational numbers. He was batting .463/.551/.650/1.201 for Delmarva with nine doubles, two homers, 17 runs and 17 RBIs. He drew 13 walks and had 17 strikeouts, 13 multi-hit games and went 9-for-13 his last four games there.
After missing so much time, Kjerstad did finally get on the field in a game on that June 10 date. He looks bigger than the player the Orioles drafted out of the University of Arkansas, and during an interview Tuesday at Ripken Stadium he said he is.
“For sure. I had a lot of time in the gym over the past year and you know we have a lot of great staff, our strength staff. They get you to work out and focus on some things that aren’t as good as they should be and they really hone in on it. That has helped me gain bit of strength,” he said.
He added that strength helps with pop in his bat.
“Probably gave me more consistent exit velo on some balls. Hitting balls harder consistently. That is where it shows up in my opinion,” he said.
Kjerstad was asked what he's learned about himself in finally playing pro ball this season.
“I really enjoy playing every day, that’s the main thing,” said Kjerstad. “Sometimes it’s a drag for some guys, but for me I just really enjoy getting to go the park every day. Know I’m going to be able to get a good amount of at-bats and keep improving every day.
“I feel good. I mean, I came in in really good shape, just because our training staff down in Sarasota and everything. I was ready to roll and I still feel great. Day-to-day always feel good and ready to play another game.”
As the Orioles get set to make the No. 1 pick in the draft this Sunday night, Kjerstad is now just over two years out from the day he was the No. 2 overall selection.
“Oh yeah, the draft is one of those moments you work for your whole career. Finally happens. That’s a big day you’ll never forget in your baseball career and it’s always exciting for the teams and the players," he said.
Another day, another win: The Orioles didn't win on Monday. Of course, they didn't play. When they started their road trip in Chicago last night they beat the Cubs 4-2 at Wrigley Field.
They improved to the .500 mark at 44-44 and now have won nine games in a row. It is their longest in-season win streak since they won 13 in a row from Sept. 7-22, 1999.
The O's have won the nine consecutive games by 16 total runs - winning seven of the games by two runs or less. They are two games back of the final American League playoff spot.
While Ramón Urías hit a two-run homer and Jorge Mateo added a solo shot, Jordan Lyles allowed just two runs over seven innings on the mound. It was just the sixth time this year an O's starter has gone seven innings or more, and four of those times it was Lyles doing it. In his past five starts, Lyles has four quality starts and an ERA of 2.76.
In the last 21 games, O's starting pitchers have an ERA of 2.36 to lead the majors.
In the last 24 games, O's pitching has a team ERA of 2.65 and has allowed two runs or less 14 times. The Orioles are 13-1 in those 14 games.