While fans are watching playoff baseball, Orioles evaluators are focused on the Southwest. As the MLB Postseason heats up with three of the four Championship Series bids locked up and rain postponing Game 5 of the ALCS, there is baseball being played elsewhere in the United States. In Arizona, certain prospects from all 30 teams have been assigned to certain teams to continue playing during October and November to get extra reps in after the minor league season.
The Orioles have sent seven prospects, four pitchers and three position players, to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Included in the mix is the number two overall pick from the 2020 draft Heston Kjerstad who had a delayed start to his professional career due to COVID-19 and undisclosed medical issues.
Despite the delayed start, Kjerstad has hit well in his limited professional baseball tenure. He slashed .309/.394/.457 in 65 games between Delmarva and Aberdeen this season. Most of the offensive success came in Delmarva where he had an absurd 1.201 OPS in 22 games before struggling a bit in Aberdeen to finish the season. It seems as though he has found his stroke again as he has hit well in an admittedly small sample size of nine games. However, with a .357/.386/.667 slash line, there is reason to believe that the offense has returned for Heston.
Orioles prospect Heston Kjerstad has been tearing up the Arizona Fall League.
He has hit three home runs, including an inside-the-park homer on Monday, in those nine games as well as four doubles and 15 total hits. Interestingly, Kjerstad was not the only Scorpion to hit an inside-the-park home run as his teammate, Cal Conley of the Braves, also rounded the bases on a ball that landed in right field.
Strikeouts have been an issue for Kjerstad, and that issue has been exacerbated this fall in Arizona. In 44 plate appearances, Heston has struck out 13 times and only walked twice. This is good for a 29.5% strikeout rate and 4.5% walk rate which is not a great combination. With the O’s affiliates, Kjerstad struck out 64 times in 65 games and had a strikeout rate of 22.5%. These numbers are not atrocious, but it is likely that his strikeout rate will increase as he progresses through the minors and could become an issue for him. However, as we have learned with players like Aaron Judge, high strikeout numbers are not necessarily a hindrance if the power numbers are also high.
Going into 2023, it will be interesting to see where Kjerstad begins the season and how far he can progress during the year. With a strong fall in Arizona, he has a case to begin the season in Double-A Bowie with fellow outfield prospect Colton Cowser in Triple-A. The Orioles have a plethora of promising young outfielders and Kjerstad certainly plays a part in the future plans since he was taken second overall. He could possibly follow the path of Gunnar Henderson and Kyle Stowers and find his way to Camden Yards by the end of the season.