The implementation of the alternate camp site and participation in the fall instructional league were geared in part toward avoiding a setback in the development of prospects who couldn’t get at-bats and innings in the minors.
But what about the excluded players?
What about outfielder Heston Kjerstad, who wasn’t able to report to Prince George’s Stadium or the Ed Smith Stadium complex because of an undisclosed non-sports medical issue?
We’re assuming here that he’s been working out at home, but he lost important months in his professional life.
Catcher Adley Rutschman was the first-overall pick in 2019 and played at three levels of the farm system - the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, short-season Single-A Aberdeen and low Single-A Delmarva - for a total of 37 games.
The Orioles wanted Rutschman assigned to high Single-A Frederick last year, but the cancellation of the minor league season put him in the summer training camp, the alternate site and the fall instructional site for a total of 37 games. The at-bats and work with upper-level pitchers were hugely beneficial.
So beneficial, in fact, that the Orioles are comfortable starting Rutschman at the Double-A level this year.
Kjerstad is a different story due to circumstances.
He didn’t have a minor league season in 2020. And Double-A and Single-A teams are starting late in 2021, the delays done as a safety precaution.
Major League Baseball reportedly sent out a memo detailing how spring training for those players won’t begin until MLB and Triple-A players have departed their camps to allow for more social distancing.
Later report dates mean later opening days.
My list of curiosities should include what the Orioles plan to do with Kjerstad.
MLB isn’t doling out much information about the 2021 spring structure and its changes, but the Orioles apparently are going to bring Kjerstad to Florida after the first wave is gone - hopefully by the beginning of April - for this year’s version of minor league camp. They’ll decide later whether he’s assigned to the GCL, Delmarva or Aberdeen, which has been reclassified as high Single-A.
The IronBirds would be a consideration only if Kjerstad “shows really well,” as one person put it. Delmarva is more likely at this time.
The Orioles probably can’t bump Kjerstad a level, as they’re doing with Rutschman, because he didn’t get any work with their instructors over the summer. That appears on the surface to be a setback, but I don’t get the sense that the organization views it in the same light.
He’s going to get lots of instruction and attention in Florida, with more one-on-one work than if he played in minor league games in April. Much like what transpired at the alternate camp. And he played at the University of Arkansas last year prior to the draft, reducing the idle period.
The lack of activity after the draft is similar to what happens to players who sign late and are shut down. Back when alternate camp sites didn’t exist.
Kjerstad should be fine in the long run. It’s unfortunate that the Orioles couldn’t get their first-round pick in any games after his selection - not in the minors, intrasquads or fall instructional league - and are faced with late starts for some of their affiliates, but pushing back his professional debut isn’t a worry.
The Orioles just want to get eyes and hands on him. They’ll have more control while setting up his schedule - again, as they did with the players at Bowie over the summer.
Get him ready for his first at-bats in real games.
Get him started on what had been expected to be a fairly rapid climb through the system.
Note: The Orioles expressed interest in infielder Daniel Robertson, as I reported last week, but he’s off the board.
The Brewers reportedly have agreed to terms with Robertson on a one-year deal for a guaranteed $900,000.