FAYETTEVILLE – In his Baltimore Orioles uniform, now former Arkansas Razorbacks All-American outfielder Heston Kjerstad was reintroduced Wednesday on an Orioles Zoom press conference as an officially signed first-round draft choice selected second in the entire draft.
Kjerstad of Amarillo, Texas inked a contract Tuesday believed worth $5.2 million.
“Second time wearing it,” Kjerstad said during the presser accompanied by Orioles general manager Mike Elias and Ken Guthrie, the scout discovering him for Baltimore. “I wore it when I signed the other day.”
Unfortunately he’ll wear no getting started minor league uniform in 2020. The so far unplayed minor league season has been officially canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“The best way to improve as a player is playing every day against high level competition,” Kjerstad said. “But it’s something that every minor league player is struggling with. You have to be creative in your training and making sure you get live at bats and doing a lot of machine work to simulate real at bats.”
Elias said the Orioles will do all they can.
“We we are in the process of getting him engaged with our player development and our strength and conditioning department,” Elias said.
Elias marveled at the skill set the left-handed hitting right fielder displayed hitting .332 and .331 with 14 and 15 home runs for Coach Dave Van Horn’s College World Series Razorbacks of 2018 and 2019 and his torrid .448, 30 for 67 including six home runs and five doubles, in the 2020 season canceled after 16 games because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We feel he is the headliner,” Elias said. “What we saw is a rare combination of power and the ability to hit for average. He is also a good, solid good defender. He has a strong arm. We feel he has a good middle in the order left-handed bat that’s hard to find.”
Guthrie first knew Heston as an 11-year old tagging along with his older brother whom Guthrie coached in amateur ball before becoming an Orioles scout for the Southwest.
“The first time I considered Heston a prospect was at the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M. in the summer after his junior year,” Guthrie said.
Still, Kjerstad was undersized and trying to switch-hit and turning down a lowball 36th-round offer from the Seattle Mariners when he signed with Van Horn’s Razorbacks.
Guthrie implied he almost didn’t recognize Kjerstad upon Heston hitting the Arkansas weights.
“I knew I had underestimated what his power tools are going to be,” Guthrie said. “Immediately that freshman year he proved my notion right. What attracted me was his knack for squaring up the ball routinely with power to all fields. And the best part is he’ll maximize his potential with his hard work ethic and genuine love for the game.”
Elias and Guthrie said it wasn’t just Kjerstad’s success but where he succeeded just as it had with Blaine Knight, the Razorbacks pitcher from Bryant that Baltimore signed immediately after his 2018 All-American season.
“Coming from Arkansas you know these players get a tremendous coaching experience in a first-rate program and competitive environment,” Elias said. “The SEC is the best conference in college baseball. So how well Heston has done in that conference means a lot to me and looking at what Blaine Knight did as well prepared him for pro ball.”
Kjerstad was asked Wednesday about his high school switch-hitting.
“Really I was supposed to be a natural right-handed hitter because I do everything else right-handed,” Kjerstad said. “But my senior year in high school I started realizing I could hit left-handed pitching really well (from the left side) and my left-handed swing was more advanced. So it was time to focus on one side and make one side as good as it can be.”
Kjerstad credits his father, Van Horn, and Razorbacks hitting coach Nate Thompson with his development but also leaving alone
his swing that came naturally.
“It’s like playing a guitar,” Kjerstad said. “It’s a form of art and you have your own unique rhythm. When I was at Arkansas Coach Thompson is individual with everyone. This works for you. It was really cool to be in a program catering to your approach.”
With payments deferred Kjerstad was expected to receive $100,000 immediately. Don’t look for the money to go to his head.
“I’m trying to save as much as I can,” Kjerstad said. “I definitely want to do something for my parents but they told me they don’t want a penny, that I earned it. I‘m pretty happy with my life. I don’t need a lot of materialistic things or anything like that.”
Photo by Craven Whitlow/CW3SportsAction