FAYETTEVILLE – Stunning those involved in the pre mock drafts, Arkansas Razorbacks junior outfielder Heston Kjerstad was selected by the Baltimore Orioles as the No. 2 pick in the entire first round of Wednesday’s first night of the Major League Baseball draft.
Only third baseman Jeff King, No.1 pick of the entire 1986 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, has been baseball drafted higher as a Razorback.
All mock drafts had Kjerstad going among Wednesday’s first round picks but most had him pegged with the Colorado Rockies and their No. 9 first-round pick or the Los Angeles Angels’ No. 10 first-round pick or in that range.
Instead only right-handed first baseman Spencer Torkelson of Arizona State, chosen with the Detroit Tigers first pick of the draft, heard his name called before Kjerstad.
Jim Callis of mlb.com posted: “Kjerstad is the best left-handed power hitter in this draft, but it is a surprise to see him go here, as we had him ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the Draft. I thought that the Orioles would go with Vanderbilt’s (shortstop) Austin Martin, but Kjerstad’s swing is built for Camden Yards, and he should get there very quickly.”
Kent Guthrie, the Oriole director of minor league operations, is a friend of the Kjerstad family. And Kjerstad said he knew Orioles General Manager Mike Elias was doing extensive research.
“They showed quite a bit of interest,” Kjerstad said Wednesday night on an Orioles arranged Zoom session. “I thought I was in consideration for their No. 2 pick going into the draft today. I wasn’t trying to get my hopes up. I was just waiting for the phone to ring and see what happens. And sure enough after the Detroit Tigers made their pick the phone rings and they wanted to take me with their second pick and man, I couldn’t say yes quick enough to that. I’m just thrilled to be a part of the Orioles and my next journey into baseball. It’s a dream come true for me.”
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn called Kjerstad “probably the best left-handed hitter in the country” and the Orioles appeared to have adhered to the Razorbacks coach.
Kjerstad of Amarillo. Texas, paced Arkansas to the College World Series in 2018 and 2019 and was virtually unstoppable in Arkansas’ 16 games of 2020 before all collegiate sports were cancelled because the coronavirus cover-19 pandemic.
As a true freshman left fielder for the Razorbacks 2018 national runner-up team, Kjerstad hit .332 with 16 doubles, 14 home runs and 58 RBI and in 2019 as a right fielder hit .327 hit 13 doubles, a triple and 17 home runs with 51 RBI.
For the 2020 11-5 Razorbacks, Kjerstad, playing right field and occasionally first base, logged at least one hit every game. He batted a torrid .448 with 30 hits in 67 at bats including five doubles, six home runs and 20 RBI backing Van Horn’s superlative adjectives.
Considering Kjerstad out of high school turned down a 36th-round draft offer from the Seattle Mariners as the 1,083 overall player selected to play for the Razorbacks, his University of Arkansas experience paid handsomely.
As the second pick in the first round, Kjerstad is slotted to be offered $7,789,900.
Kjerstad said he treasured his Arkansas time under Van Horn not just the obvious economic benefits but experiences that money can’t buy.
“It was huge,” Kjerstad of Arkansas and Van Horn. “He took a chance on me. As a high schooler he gave me an offer to come play to his great program and I’ll always be thankful for that. He took such good care of me whether it was helping me reach new levels or with whatever I needed. He’s a father figure for all of us who who were away from home. There is no other college coach I would have ever wanted to play for than Dave Van Horn. And to be part of the first two teams to go back to back in the rich history of Arkansas Razorback baseball, that’s something I’ll never forget and I want all the Arkansas fans always to remember.”
Kjerstad said his parents always were there start to finish with his father again pitching him batting practice back home this spring after the college season’s premature end.
“I’m pretty sure I owe him a new shoulder for how much BP he threw and I’m more than thankful for him doing that,” Kjerstad said.
Within the Orioles’ minor league chain Kjerstad looks forward to reuniting with Blaine Knight of Bryant, Arkansas’ All-American pitch ace of 2018 who signed with the Orioles after drafted that summer.
“ He gave me a call this morning to wish me luck and told me, ‘Embrace the moment! You are going to remember it. Wherever you go you are going to be a great player,” Kjerstad said. “Then 30 minutes ago he gave me a call and he was pumped. And I’m pumped, too, to be back on a team with Blaine. We got along great at Arkansas and we talked about playing on the same team soon and how much we’re looking forward to it.”
Formerly 40 rounds, the 2020 draft is reduced to five rounds since the pandemic so curtailed the college and high school seasons and delayed the still unplayed Major League baseball season. The draft’s remaining second through fifth rounds will operate this afternoon