The deliberate process of getting outfielder Heston Kjerstad built up physically and able to begin playing in games has been shelved again due to a medical issue.
The same condition that kept him inactive following the 2020 draft.
Kjerstad, the second-overall pick out of the University of Arkansas, was diagnosed with myocarditis last summer and couldn’t participate in spring training earlier this year. He reported to the alternate camp site in Bowie and moved his baseball activities and conditioning drills to Sarasota, Fla. before the Orioles shut him down due to a reoccurrence of the inflammation in his heart.
“This is still a situation that we feel will be a matter of time,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said on a Zoom call. “He’s putting a lot of work in, he’s very determined. This is a bump in the road. It’s a tricky condition, it’s a very serious one that requires us to be careful and deliberate. I do expect this will back up our timeline for getting him back on the field, and it’s something we probably can’t put an artificial timeline on. We’re going to have to provide some further rest before entering a return-to-play protocol once again.”
The Orioles never promised that Kjerstad would join an affiliate later in the summer, though they hoped to make it happen. He was a candidate to play in the fall instructional league or Arizona Fall League if cleared medically.
Red Sox pitcher and former Orioles farmhand Eduardo Rodriguez missed the 2020 season after being diagnosed with myocarditis.
Whether Kjerstad is able to get back on the field this summer is secondary to his overall health. And the Orioles are respecting Kjerstad’s privacy by limiting the amount of information that’s dispensed.
“I think the whole thing is a concern,” Elias said. “I mean, it’s a heart condition. Again, I’m going to be really careful. I don’t want to be the one talking in depth about the medicine of this. ... We’ve had some bad medical scares here very recently and there was another player in the league that had a condition very similar to this one very recently.
“They’re young, they’re healthy, they’re very determined individuals and they have world-class healthcare at their fingertips and we’re pushing every button we can push. So I think his odds to return are very good in that respect, but to have anyone, let alone a high draft pick like this, miss this amount of time, it’s obviously been a bummer. But he’s first and foremost what we’re thinking about, and rushing this along for baseball and pushing through medical recommendations for baseball, that’s just not going to happen.”
Elias also said the condition couldn’t have been detected earlier and can’t be blamed on an organizational oversight.
“No, not at all, not at all,” he said. “It’s just a bad piece of luck that it’s happened to this kid, and it stinks for him and we’re going to help him through it and he’ll get through it. He’s proven, really, how tough he is through this.”
Double-A Bowie pitcher DL Hall, the No. 4 ranked prospect in the system per MLBPipeline.com, underwent an MRI on his left arm after experiencing what Elias called “a little more than normal soreness” behind his left arm in the elbow/triceps area following his last start. There’s no structural damage, but Hall will be rested for a few weeks as a precaution.
Hall, 22, has a 3.13 ERA and 1.01 WHIP with 56 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings.
“There was some tendinitis, some inflammation, so we’ll pull him out of the rotation, let him rest for a couple of weeks and in several weeks start to build him back up and return to the Bowie rotation here in good time,” Elias said.
First baseman Chris Davis has moved his rehab from left hip labrum surgery from his Dallas home to Baltimore, where the medical staff can work with him. Davis could return to baseball activities in late August or early September as he ramps up his workouts over the next couple of months.
“He’s been building range of motion and strength with his lower body, with his hip and his leg and lower back, and continues to make good progress there,” Elias said. “We’re in the process of ramping up his rehab.”
Elias said Davis’ status hasn’t changed. He won’t play in 2021.
The Orioles never revealed the details of manager Brandon Hyde’s contract after his hiring in December 2018, though it’s believed that his deal includes an option for next season. Elias declined to comment on whether the Orioles have a commitment to bring back Hyde in 2021.
“I’m not going to be the one to spill anyone’s contractual status in baseball ops,” Elias said. “It will get out on a number of employees. If and when it gets out, maybe I’ll comment or no-comment about them. I don’t see any benefit to me by revealing the contractual status of the employees in baseball ops.
“I will say that I hired Brandon. We handpicked him for this job because of his skills, because of the relationship that we felt, because of his references, because of his broad perspective across baseball operations from the dugout all the way to the Gulf Coast League and everything in between. He is a partner with us in this multi-year project. We all knew this would be a multi-year project. We knew that there were going to be some rough years. He is not being judged on where we are in the standings in 2021.
“He and his staff have a lot of interaction with a lot of corners of our baseball operations department as we filled out this entire organization. All of that, I couldn’t be happier with. I’m looking forward to getting back to the playoffs and hopefully all of us are still here together for that.”
Elias also was asked about tweets from a group called “Advocates for Minor Leaguers” that surfaced last night, stating that multiple players on the Baysox are considering sleeping in their cars beginning tonight due to an inability to afford staying in the team hotel and not having a host family.
“First of all, I saw the tweet. I wouldn’t call it a ‘report,’ Elias said. “It was a tweet with some reference to hearsay and any information there was not accurate. I can assure you all our players in Bowie have accommodations, all of our players. I can’t verify anything that was in there based on that.
“This is actually a topic that all of us in the organization have been very proud of, the approach in the organization so far, especially in this coronavirus period of time. We have kept all of our scouts and coaches on staff on payroll, We kept paying minor leaguers last summer, and actually if you scroll down in the tweet, we were receiving praise a few weeks ago for being one of the teams to extend some extra accommodation funding into this part of the summer. And we’ve been making a lot of strides in this area. We’re providing extra buses this year, a lot of extra funding across player development year over year. So our players did know and continue to know that we’re available to them should they have any types of hardships arise.
“It does happen from time to time and we handle them quietly from time to time. We’re here as a resource to them, we’re here to help them. But with all that said, this is an area that has, industry-wide, gotten a lot of attention the last couple years. ... We’re continuing to evolve, we’re continuing to fine-tune the way that the industry invests in player development and just approaches the whole thing and the way the industry thinks about it. We’re going to continue to listen and look at stuff as we go along, and so we will continue to do that, as well.
“We’ve talked to our players before and since that tweet and we’re making sure that they have what they need. But it’s something that we’re going to continue looking at and continue to take into account.”