The Orioles’ highly touted prospect, Heston Kjerstad, is grateful to be back on the baseball diamond.
However, he understands that patience will play a key role in his development after dealing with various setbacks with his health.
Two years after the Orioles selected the outfielder second overall in the 2020 draft, Kjerstad finally will make his professional debut for the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds on Friday night.
Despite the layoff, Kjerstad is still the No. 9 Prospect in the Orioles’ system, according to MLB Pipeline.
“It’s been a journey to get to this moment,” Kjerstad said. “The past couple of years, the other years of my life growing up and playing high school and college baseball, I hit a little bump in the road. Some things I had to persevere through. It’s been a lot of patience. It’s been some different feelings, some different emotions, but most importantly, I am just excited to be playing baseball again.”
Kjerstad was the second overall pick in the 2020 draft and signed for $5.2 million, below the slot value of $7.79 million. Later that year, he was diagnosed with myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart muscle — that ended his season before it began.
Kjerstad was shut down again in 2021 because of continued concerns with the condition.
He was expected to make his debut out of spring training this year, but he suffered a strained hamstring on March 11th in a minor league intrasquad game that held him out at the start of the season.
“I learned a lot by going through the struggles I’ve had to go through in the past,” Kjerstad said. “The main thing is even when times were rough, there is always going to be light at the end of the tunnel and you just have to take it day-by-day. You have to control what you can control and there’s a lot of things you can’t control that you’ll just spin your wheels thinking about.
“I really came at peace with things I had to persevere through. It just made me a little more confident and a little bit more comfortable when I will have hardships in the future.”
Kjerstad participated in extended spring training and joined the Shorebirds earlier this week before he was activated for the weekend series against Fayetteville Woodpeckers at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium. He’ll be the designated hitter on Friday night.
Now, he is healthy and ready to begin his pro career.
The Shorebirds will ease Kjerstad into the lineup. He won’t play every inning and game initially and will be taken out midgame as part of his rehab.
He will wear No. 9, because that jersey fits the best.
“This year, I am just trying to take it day-by-day and to see where I am and figure out what points of my game that I need to work on,” Kjerstad said. “Most importantly, the first few games here, just getting my feet wet, getting comfortable again and just getting to swing the bat again, figuring out my approach.”
Kjerstad was a first-team All-American in his junior season for the University of Arkansas, where he slashed .448/.513/.791 (30-for-67) with five doubles, six home runs, 19 runs, and 20 RBI in 16 games in 2020, which was shortened by the pandemic. He led the Razorbacks in batting average, hits, home runs, RBIs, total bases on-base percentage and slugging.
Kjerstad also played for Team USA Collegiate National Baseball Team, hitting .395 in 14 games.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde talked about seeing Kjerstad in camps before spring training.
“Impressed with how strong he was, how the ball comes off his bat,” Hyde said. “He’s got serious power. He’s a good athlete in the outfield. It was fun to watch him work out the week or so I got to see him. He had an unfortunate issue where he hasn’t played since. Nice to see him back in there and start his pro career. I’m sure it’s a huge day for him.”
“I want to be at the field every day,” Kjerstad said. “I want to be playing. [The layoff] really put a perspective on how much I love the game, and how I want to play as long as I can.”
Note: Right-handed pitcher Cody Sedlock cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk.