Elias projects Kjerstad as middle-of-the-order bat for Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com

2020 MLB Draft

Elias projects Kjerstad as middle-of-the-order bat for Orioles

Heston Kjerstad
Photo credit: Steven Branscombe - USA Today

After the Orioles chose University of Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad with the second pick in the Major League Baseball draft on Wednesday night, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias expressed high hopes for his potential.

“This is a middle-of-the-order bat profile for us,” Elias said. “We feel that he’s the best left-handed hitter in the country this year. This is somebody that’s going to hit average and power and hit in the middle of our order for a long time while playing a quality right field defense.”

Elias said that he didn’t decide on picking Kjerstad until about an hour before the draft. Although the Orioles liked a pitcher, they decided to focus on position players before deciding on Kjerstad, who’s listed at 6 feet 3, 205 pounds.

He was not among the candidates that Elias met with personally, but instead had a Zoom meeting with Kjerstad during the pandemic.

“He was kind of a dark horse for us,” Elias said. “Part of it is that if I go meet with a guy like that in the wintertime who’s ranked in the middle part of the first round, that can make some waves. That’s part of the gamesmanship of the scouting process.”

Elias dismissed talk that the team selected Kjerstad because of signability. Although the Orioles could pay Kjerstad less than the $7,789,900 slotted for the second pick of the draft, and pay more than the slot amounts for the final five picks, that might be difficult. The Orioles have a pool of $13,894,300, largest in the draft.

“When you’re picking that high, you don’t want to feel like you’re not taking the guy that you want,” Elias said. “We could have gone in a few directions. We like all those players up there … you’re comparing good options.”

There was thought that Orioles might choose Vanderbilt third baseman/outfielder Austin Martin, who slid to fifth when he was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays.

“The tough thing this year is that there are that many draft picks remaining,” Elias said. “We’re going to have to take the best player on the board … and not force anything” in the remaining four rounds.

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Overall, Elias thought the draft was a strong one.

“It was a bunch of good choices this year,” Elias said. “It wasn’t like we were sifting through the lesser of two or three evils … If our pick was a pick or two later, we would have happily taken some of these other guys and been high-fiving.”

With the 30th overall pick, the Orioles selected Jordan Westburg, a Mississippi State shortstop. Last year, the team grabbed shortstops with three of their first six picks.

“If you’re playing shortstop for your high school team or your college team, that’s where the best baseball players on the team usually play,” Elias said. “Naturally, it pushes them up the boards. A guy like Westburg, he can play shortstop.

“He gets into pro ball, and who knows what our roster is going to look like when he makes the big leagues? If there is a better defensive shortstop, he can go play second, he can go play third. That’s the beauty of shortstop. You can go play other positions … It also happens to be an area with a lot of opportunity in our system, so that doesn’t hurt.”

The Orioles have the second pick of the second round on Thursday, the 39th overall, and three more selections after that. The draft begins at 5 p.m.

Elias said that the Orioles could select some pitchers in rounds 2-5. In 2019, they didn’t draft a pitcher until the eighth round.

“Maybe we’ll get some good pitchers tomorrow,” he said.

Normally, the draft is 40 rounds over three days, but Elias said he was able to navigate the selection process with few issues.

“It was not that bad,” Elias said. “We probably got a little fortunate that the players at the top of the draft, as you saw, were all college guys so you had three years’ worth of stats and video and scouting looks and all kinds of history.

“It was really just an abbreviated version of what we normally do with college players. Had it been a bunch of high school players, I think it would have felt a lot different in that regard, but it wasn’t.”

For the first time in draft history, the first seven selections were college players.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    June 11, 2020 at 7:05 am

    Projected middle of the order ‘eh? I feel better …. I really do hope this man is the genius he thinks he is.

  2. Phil770

    June 11, 2020 at 8:43 am

    Have to agree with BRR, when someone behaves as if he’s the ” smartest guy in the room”, his decisions don’t work out well. If he passed on Martin because of Boras, okay, but Gonzales was the next best selection. He made the decision an hour before the draft…doesn’t bode well.

  3. ptjhu

    June 11, 2020 at 9:24 am

    So the Orioles selected two guys who — according to the other MLB scouts — strike out a lot. I guess they don’t want Chris Davis to be lonely.

    I’m sorry that BRR and Phil770 beat me to their respective comments — but I think both are right in what they wrote. What amazes me the most is how one of the professional teams in Baltimore does so much right, while the other one can’t tell if Tuesdays come in twos or happen once a week.

  4. Tony Paparella

    June 11, 2020 at 9:48 am

    Yes a little put aside by the comment that Elias only decided on Kjerstad one hour prior.After all the prep time it should have been cut and dried,either Torkleson (if available) or one of the next best rated selections.Even Lacy looked very good and appears to me to be a real ace for the future.I did not hear that much on Kjerstad (nonething actually) so it is probably somewhat of a disappointment from my perspective,at least at this time.To echo the others,the high strikeout rate is disturbing and especially with the recent Oriole history in that area.I believe Martin was the best contact hitter out there according to many sources.And Lacy would have been a no objection pick also and a possible number one and dominate pitcher in any organization.Of course you never know how things will workout but again I say as a fan who has suffered so profoundly for so long others would have been a more encouraging choice.I still have a lot of confidence in Elias’ ability and only time will tell.I will add that I do like the fact that both selections are college guys that should progress rapidly if they have the abilities that are attached to them by the experts.Let’s hope today gets the Orioles some sleeper that garners the excitement of us fans.I qualify all my statements by the fact that we most certainly do not have the insight and resources Elias has so our opinions are just that I guess.

  5. sj1523

    June 11, 2020 at 9:51 am

    For pick 30, did Elias admit that the Orioles were looking at pitchers who didn’t end up falling to them?

    • Rich Dubroff

      June 11, 2020 at 11:36 am

      He did.

      • ptjhu

        June 11, 2020 at 1:35 pm

        So apparently Yale University never told Mike that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”?

  6. Bman

    June 11, 2020 at 10:30 am

    Yeah their overshot strategy for a pitcher at #30 did not work out. Let’s hope it does fir the second pick today. Maybe Pitcher Kelley?

  7. Bancells Moustache

    June 11, 2020 at 10:59 am

    I won’t sit here and claim to be an expert on prospects. Like 99% of everyone else, I’m going by mock drafts. I’ll jut have to assume Elias knows what he’s doing. I mean, the kid was the best hitter on a powerhouse SEC program that played for a Championship. I’ll just quote Craig T. Nelson from ‘Devils Advocate’

    “alright… but you better be every f****** bit as good as he says you are.”

    Think they get this kid from Refugio, Kelley, to go pro?

    “Refugio (Texas) High never has produced a drafted player, though that’s about to change in a big way in 2020. Kelley entered the year rated as the nation’s top high school prospect and is regarded as Texas’ best prep pitcher since Jameson Taillon went No. 2 overall in 2010. He repeatedly dominated on the showcase circuit last summer, including an Area Code Games performance that some scouts said was the best in the long history of the event.

    Few pitchers can create as much velocity with as little effort as Kelley, who can pump 93-96 mph fastballs and reach 98 with some running action. He already owns an advanced changeup with fade and sink, and he’s willing to throw it in any count. His third-best pitch at the moment is a hard slurve in the low 80s that lacks consistency but should develop into at least a solid offering.”

    I mean, that sounds enticing.

    • Rich Dubroff

      June 11, 2020 at 11:43 am

      Steve, perhaps I’ll take a day off and let you write for me instead!

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        June 11, 2020 at 12:12 pm

        Although he’s never admitted it, I’ve maintained since year 1 here at BB.com that BanMo as some sort of professional media or writing background. Love his stuff.

        • Bancells Moustache

          June 11, 2020 at 12:31 pm

          I totally didn’t write the blurb about Kelley, that’s why its in quotations.

          • Boog Robinson Robinson

            June 11, 2020 at 12:53 pm

            I’m aware of that, but you’re still the wittiest/best contributor on this site and I’ve enjoyed your comments for the past 4/5 whatever years it’s been. And I still maintain you have some kind of background!

  8. willmiranda

    June 11, 2020 at 11:20 am

    Two concerns. Elias’ saying that he decided at the last minute, OK, last hour. Second, his saying that shortstop offers
    a lot of opportunity for the draftee, something that seems to imply some dissatisfaction with the three he drafted last year.
    Or am I just silly for taking him seriously?

    • Bancells Moustache

      June 11, 2020 at 11:26 am

      Drafting a shortstop means you are drafting an infielder. Those guys are typically elite defensively and athletically and can thus be moved to second or third and even center to find a spot for their bat.

    • Rich Dubroff

      June 11, 2020 at 11:42 am

      Will, when Mike was questioned about that, he answered, and I wrote this, that a good shortstop can play any infield position. As I’ve written before, the Orioles have drafted a lot of middle infielders, center fielders and catchers in the last couple of years. Looking ahead, those are the positions teams looks to acquire in trades, so if they’re good, and the Orioles have a surplus of middle infielders or catchers, they have some good trade chips.

    • willmiranda

      June 11, 2020 at 2:23 pm

      Thanks, Ban and Rich. I think the point you make, and Elias made, is clear. My issue is: Why would being stockpiled for trade bait or otherwise make a draftee feel that he has a great opportunity with the Orioles? The strategy you all explain makes sense for the O’s, but it would not give me the sense that the team really values me and sees me as a successful player in Baltimore. Elias seemed to be making a selling point to a player,, and I don’t think it’s a strong one. I think the O’s need to be selling the team to attract players, but they appear to treat them as disposable commodities. I confess it’s largely an emotional argument, but I think that it’s a realistic one. I will grant an exception: the club has been very supportive of Chris Davis.

      • Rich Dubroff

        June 11, 2020 at 3:31 pm

        The more money a club has invested in a player, the more supportive they are. A top draft pick gets more leeway than someone selected much later.

  9. VegasOriole

    June 11, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    Its going to be really rough to watch Martin trot out against us 19 times a year. I liked Lacy or Hancock, but what do I know? Oh yeah, we havent had a dominant #1 since Moose. Not even a #2 either(Bedard,Tillman and Bundy?) Geez Louise

  10. Beeb

    June 11, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    Rich….first, thanks for staying with it! I imagine it is tough to cover management who thinks they are the smartest in the room. And yet, their safe plan is to lose 100 games for the next 3 years. Second…don’t give up! These fools will be gone soon. Especially after this draft exposes their faulty analytics.

    • Rich Dubroff

      June 11, 2020 at 3:30 pm

      Beeb, I’m doing my best. Many thanks.

  11. johninbethany

    June 11, 2020 at 3:36 pm

    Here i thought the Orioles were in need of pitching. And they surprise everybody with the pick of a left handed hitter. Either Mike is smarter then everyone else or else he just thinks he is.

    Time will tell I guess.

  12. mlbbirdfan

    June 11, 2020 at 4:06 pm

    If the first round choice is a college bat or a college arm, give me the bat. 162 vs 32? Easy call. If the second pick is a college bat or a HIGH SCHOOL arm, give me the college player. 2-3 year development path vs 6-7 years? Easy call. Relax arm chair analysts. Unless you’re on the inside, we’re all guessing.

    • 66OsFan

      June 11, 2020 at 7:52 pm

      Amen! I love reading the articles, but cringe when it comes to the comments. I had no idea the Baltimore fanbase consisted of so many out-of-work MLB GMs and managers that offer their “expert” opinions…I can understand being passionate about the team, but sheesh, unless you know what’s going on in the meeting it’s all speculation…..

  13. Birdman

    June 11, 2020 at 9:41 pm

    I admit that, unlike some folks here, I don’t follow the draft prospects closely, but when Elias says that he believes Kjerstad is “the best left handed hitter in the country this year” that sounds pretty impressive to me. Of course, only time will tell, but I’m not ready yet to belittle Elias’ judgement.

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