In this installment of the Meet the Baby Birds series we, meet Bowie Baysox star Heston Kjerstad, the Orioles #4 prospect (#50 overall). Kjerstad's professional career got off to a tough start when he was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, shortly after he was drafted in 2020. His recovery took two years and the Baltimore Orioles organization had to be patient, but Kjerstad is proving to be well worth the wait. Let's take a look at what Kjerstad has done to get to this point.
Heston Kjerstad was originally drafted out of Canyon Randall Highschool, in Amarillo, TX, in the 36th round of the 2017 MLB amateur draft by the Seattle Mariners. Believing that he could do better, Kjerstad instead opted to attend the University of Arkansas. Kjerstad immediately showed the professional franchises what they had passed over 35 times. Kjerstad batted .343/.421/.590 in three collegiate seasons and hit 37 home runs in that time. He was batting .448/.513/.791 with a ludicrous 1.304 OPS in 2020 before Covid cut the season short.
Meet the Baby Birds: Heston Kjerstad
Kjerstad again entered the draft and was selected by the Baltimore Orioles second overall. While he was projected to be drafted in the first round, it was considered a surprise when the Birds picked Kjerstand so high. It was seen as a move for the Orioles to save money that could be used to sign prospects in later rounds, but Mike Elias always has a strategy. Then came the myocarditis. Kjerstad was not able to be sent to rookie ball in 2020, like most other top draft picks, to finish out the season and missed all of the 2021 season.
In 2022 Kjerstad came to Orioles camp having recovered from his myocarditis and ready to get back on the field. Unfortunately, Kjerstad suffered another setback when he strained his left hamstring in March 2022. Kjerstad would finally make his professional debut on June 10, 2022, two years, to the day, after being drafted. His first professional at bat was an RBI ground out for the Delmarva Shorebirds. For good measure, Kjerstad added a single later in the game for his first professional hit, and he hasn't stopped hitting since.
Kjerstad batted .463/.551/.650 in 22 games with the Shorebirds and had a 1.201 OPS. Having so much success, Kjerstand was promoted to the High-A Aberdeen Ironbirds. Kjerstad was not able to make the adjustment to the higher level quickly. His numbers in Aberdeen were solid but pedestrian. The Orioles wanted to get Kjerstad more at-bats to make up for lost time so they put him into the Arizona Fall League. That's where things clicked for Kjerstad and he batted .357/.385/.622 with a 1.007 OPS enroute to winning the AFL MVP.
After his MVP fall season, the Birds decided to promote Kjerstad to Double-A Bowie to start 2023, and the decision was a good one. Kjerstad is batting .300/.370/.572 and is either first or second on the team in virtually every major offensive category. While Kjerstad's offense has never been questioned, his defense is also good. Kjerstad played left field as a freshman in college but moved to right field his sophomore year and has played there almost exclusively until recently. The O's are always looking for versatility and Kjerstad has played at first base almost as much as right field in Bowie.
On Sunday, it was announced that Kjerstad has made another leap in the minors, being promoted up to Triple A Norfolk. Colton Cowser has just returned from an injury and should be in Baltimore as soon as he has completed a short rehab assignment, to fill in for the injured Cedric Mullins. Kjerstad seems to be the natural selection to replace Cowser in Norfolk, with aspirations of playing alongside Cowser in Camden Yards before the end of the 2024 season.