Orioles top pick Heston Kjerstad continues to rule the AFL.
Orioles prospects Heston Kjerstad and Noah Denoyer will play for the AL in Sunday’s AFL Fall Stars Game. Kjerstad will also compete in the Arizona Fall League’s first ever Home Run Derby Saturday night. The two of them stand apart in an Orioles contingent otherwise struggling.
The separate announcements this week come as welcome news for Orioles fans and the organization as Kjerstad continues to tear the cover off the ball in his first minor league season. After two lost years due to myocarditis, Kjerstad raked in 22 games at Low-A before slowly adjusting to High-A pitching.
He is now facing older competition in the AFL and looks every bit like the college stud the Orioles drafted second overall in 2020. In 81 plate appearances across 17 games, Kjerstad has a robust slash line of .347/.383/.627, which equates to a 1.009 OPS. Prospect analyst Keith Law is still skeptical of his swing-and-miss issues, though, and the AFL is very hitter friendly, so you should be somewhat suspicious of the numbers. At this point, the front office could defensively send him back to Aberdeen to start 2023 or push him to AA.
Scouts are not the ones who pick the Fall Stars, though, and Kjerstad is arguably more deserving than anyone based on his stats. He leads the league in OPS, slugging percentage and total bases, and he is tied for the lead in home runs. His power tool and in-game power both make him an excellent choice for the Derby, but he will need his best to top a tough field. Kjerstad’s competition includes Cubs prospect Matt Mervis, who exploded with 36 home runs during the regular season.
On the Pitching Side
Noah Denoyer was one of the few pleasant surprises among farm hands during the regular season. After 18 average innings with the Ironbirds, Denoyer took a step forward with the Baysox. In 51.2 innings across 14 games (three starts), Denoyer had a 2.61 ERA with 69 strikeouts and a phenomenal WHIP of 0.794.
Amidst a weak group of arms, Denoyer has been the most reliable among Orioles pitchers in Arizona. Denoyer is the only one starting games, and his 4.74 ERA is much better than the league average. Reliver Easton Lucas has been stellar with a 1.04 ERA, but he has only thrown 8.2 innings. Denoyer is fourth overall at 20 innings across five starts and one relief appearance. He has 21 strikeouts and a .227 BAA, but 11 walks, the same number he had in Bowie, have hurt him to this point. His three wins are tied for the league lead.
If you have not seen Kjerstad or Denoyer play this year, now is your chance. The AFL Fall Stars Game will be airing on MLB Network Sunday at 4 pm eastern time/2 pm local time.