New Oriole Heston Kjerstad, taken by the club with the No. 2 pick tonight in the First-Year Player Draft, showed some confidence when he talked to reporters during a Zoom interview. After Detroit took Spencer Torkelson as expected, the Orioles pulled a surprise with the selection of the lefty-hitting outfielder from the University of Arkansas.
“I’m just excited to be a part of Birdland now and embark on my next journey of professional baseball,” Kjerstad said. “Right now, I’m just stoked to be a part of the Orioles. It’s a dream come true for me.
“I’m going to be an impact player, for sure. Bring a left-handed bat to the lineup that has power to all parts of the field. You know, I also bring a good glove to the outfield, whether it’s left or right. Wherever they put me, I’ll be a solid defender. One of the things that really contributes to winning - which is the most important thing - is my camaraderie that I’m able to develop with my teammates and the type of teammate I am to them.”
Kjerstad, 21, was rated as the No. 10 player in the draft by MLBPipeline.com and No. 13 by Baseball America. In 16 games before college baseball shut down, he hit .448/.513/.791 with five doubles, six home runs and 20 RBIs. 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 in his first season.
As a true freshman in 2018, Kjerstad was named the Southeast Conference Freshman of the Year, along with being named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and the All-SEC Second Team, after helping lead Arkansas to the College World Series.
“They showed quite a bit of interest,” he said of being taken second by the Orioles. “They had said I was still in consideration for their No. 2 pick going into the draft today. I wasn’t really trying to get my hopes up for any pick. I was just waiting for the phone to ring. Sure enough, after the Detroit Tigers turned in their pick, the phone rang and the Orioles took me with the second pick. I couldn’t say ‘yes’ quick enough to that.”
In addition to confidence in his own game, Kjerstad expressed an abundance of confidence in his new organization. He also took time to note aspects of his game that need to improve.
“I think they run the best minor league system in all of baseball with Mike Elias taking over,” Kjerstad said. “I think he really does a good job in player development and I can’t wait to get started. I did a little bit of research of how he turned around the Astros and how he was a big part of all those draft picks, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. I think he’s doing the same with the Orioles.
“You know, I feel I need to improve on all parts of my game if I want to be the impact player I want to be. Maybe hitting for more power or hitting for more average. Probably the most important thing for me going forward is plate discipline. Swinging at the right pitches at the right times.”
Kjerstad was asked if he expected to come to terms quickly with the Orioles.
“As for signing, we’ll just see how it goes. It may be impacted a little bit with everything going on through all this virus stuff. But I’m excited to get started on this journey,” he said.
Kjerstad knows two O’s minor league pitchers pretty well. He played on that College World Series team at Arkansas in 2018 with Blaine Knight. He played on a high school summer league team with Grayson Rodriguez.
“He (Knight) called me about 30 minutes ago. He was pumped and I’m pumped, too, to be back on a team with Blaine,” Kjerstad said. “We got along great when I was at Arkansas. We talked about playing on the same team soon.”
Kjerstad said if there were doubters over his selection tonight, he would look to prove them wrong.
“I always have something to prove when I play,” he said. “I’m just going to keep playing as I always have. When I went to Arkansas, you know, there were a lot of people that thought I shouldn’t be there. When I started as a freshman, they thought I should not. I proved them wrong. People can sit back and watch. I’m pretty sure I’ll slowly change a lot of minds and they’ll realize why my name was called so early if they don’t understand now.”
Said Elias of Kjerstad: “We absolutely love his bat. He is the best left-handed hitter in the country this year. He plays a good right field. He’s a big guy with gigantic power and it’s power to all fields. We think he’s a middle of the order bat. Great kid. A tremendous addition to our farm system.”