Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias revealed this afternoon why outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the second overall pick in the 2020 draft, was withheld from the alternate camp site and fall instructional league.
Kjerstad didn’t participate in any activities after having “an episode of myocarditis,” which is an inflammation of the heart muscle.
The Orioles included Kjerstad, who turned 22 today, on their list of camp reserves.
“He’s doing really well,” Elias said on his Zoom conference call with the media, cautioning that he would be limited in providing details because it’s a non-sports medical issue. “We’re going to have him at the camp, but we’re still emerging from the timeline of that. It’s a big of a lengthy recovery timeline.
“There are also risk factors associated with the ongoing pandemic that we’ve had to be very mindful and very careful about. So he won’t be there immediately. I’ll provide updates when we’re ready to have them. I know he’s looking forward to being there and talking to all of you. I’ll let him talk about that on his own. But everything is going well, but that is still something that’s developing in terms of the timeline of his reporting because of that.”
Kjerstad received a $5.2 million signing bonus from the Orioles, below the slot value of $7,789,900, after he slashed .448/.513/.791 with five doubles, six home runs and 20 RBIs in 16 games before baseball shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. He hit .327/.400/.575 with 13 doubles, one triple, 17 home runs and 51 RBIs in 300 plate appearances as a sophomore and .332/.419/.553 with 16 doubles, 14 home runs and 58 RBIs in 313 plate appearances as a freshman.
The spring training roster consists of 10 non-roster invites and 22 camp reserves, a unique format born from COVID-19 and adjustments to the minor league seasons.
“There are a lot of players on the list today who have a very good shot of making the opening day roster,” Elias said. “There are others that are there essentially for player development purposes, and there are some who are a mixture of both, so it’s really a blend from all around.”
Conspicuous by their absences are some of the top pitching prospects in the organization, most notably Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, who are going to be slow-played because they’ll be assigned to affiliates below the Triple-A level. Those teams start their seasons later in the summer.
“A lot of those guys we are projecting to probably start in the mid-minors somewhere,” Elias said.
“We’re being a little mindful of the calendar timelines for getting their arms ramped up and how long they’re going to have to pitch over the course of the year.”
Open spots in camp also are reserved for future acquisitions, whether in free agency or on the waiver wire, which will bring about an evolution of the list.
So what is the distinction between a traditional NRI and camp reserves?
“These guys are basically going to stay there for the most part unless something happens and there’s a move or something, so we’re not going to have the dynamic that we’re used to where there’s a major league camp and then a minor league camp going on simultaneously in Twin Lakes (Park),” Elias said.
“Obviously, 72 guys aren’t going to make the team and obviously we’re going to need to narrow that. I think a lot of the players on the camp reserve list have a very good chance of making the team, but it just didn’t seem right to me to have 72 non-roster invitations to major league spring training. A lot of these players are on this list for a lot of different reasons, but I do want to be careful to say that it’s very possible, if not likely, that there will be guys on that camp reserve list who end up making the opening day roster. We’re just going to see what happens.”
The expectation is that players who don’t make the opening day roster, receive an assignment to Triple-A or go to the alternate camp site will stay in Sarasota to train under coaching supervision on the back fields.
Also from Elias:
* A few pitchers are experiencing issues with international travel, which could cause delayed arrivals. The intake process also could affect report dates and Elias is prepared for “some unevenness” with players taking the field.
* Top prospect Adley Rutschman will report next week with the pitchers and catchers despite being on the reserve list.
* The Orioles will utilize Twin Lakes Park for social distancing purposes, but the facility won’t be designated as the minor league side, as in previous spring trainings. There will be days when established major league players work out at Twin Lakes and lower-level minor leaguers head over to the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
* Elias wants to see Jahmai Jones at second base before deciding whether the former second-round draft pick of the Angels, acquired in the Alex Cobb trade, is also a consideration in the outfield. “It’s hard for me to say for sure without us having our own evaluation, which we’ll make when he gets there,” Elias said. “But I certainly think we’ll preserve that option going forward. He has more experience out there, so I imagine it will be easier to keep that tool in his tool box. But we want to him at second base.”
* Elias is looking forward to having knuckleballer Mickey Jannis in camp. Jannis wasn’t in major league camp last spring, but the Orioles brought him over from Twin Lakes Park a few times for bullpen sessions. They trusted that he’d be able to work out on his own last summer.
“I think it will be great for the major league staff to get to see him because we do think he’s interesting,” Elias said.
“We’ve seen, like last year with César Valdez, those guys with unique stories who figure out how to be successful in the major leagues and we’re hopeful that he can be one of them. So he’s got a real shot to compete for this club.”