Cayden Wallace didn’t have to wait long to enjoy the birthday gift he received from the Kansas City Royals on Monday.
A day after being promoted to Double-A, the former Arkansas baseball standout started at third base Tuesday night and went 1 for 4 with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.
His first at bat ended with a strikeout via pitch clock violation and he also struck out to end what was a 5-2 loss to the Wichita Wind Surge, but he also singled up the middle in the seventh inning for his first Double-A hit.
It was Wallace’s first game at his new home, Arvest Ballpark, which is just up the road from where he was a two-year starter for the Razorbacks before becoming a second-round pick in last summer’s MLB Draft.
He became just the second former Arkansas baseball player to appear in a game for the Naturals since they moved to Springdale in 2008. The first was a decade ago, when Brett Eibner spent one season with the club on his way to a brief stint in the big leagues.
The Naturals have fielded a pair of former Arkansas baseball signees in Vance Wilson (2009) and Daniel Tillo (2019-21) — the former later managed the team — and a Fayetteville High product in Cody Clark (2008-09). It has welcomed several Razorbacks like Zack Cox and Kevin Kopps as visitors, but Eibner and Wallace are the only ones to actually play on the team.
Wallace, who turned 22 on Monday, slashed .261/.341/.431 with 10 home runs and 64 RBIs in 97 games at High-A Quad Cities this season. He also has 15 stolen bases while being the River Bandits’ starting third baseman.
This is his first full season in the minors, as he was a second-round pick by the Royals as a draft-eligible sophomore last year. Wallace debuted in rookie ball, but played just three games before getting called up to Single-A Columbia, where he slashed .294/.369/.468 in 27 games.
He is currently No. 4 on MLB Pipeline’s ranking of the Royals’ top 30 prospects.
Arkansas baseball fans will have several more opportunities to see Wallace back in the Natural State, as the Naturals have the rest of this six-game homestand – which continues at 7:05 p.m. CT Wednesday – and three more six-game homestands.
Heston Kjerstad Stays Hot
With another one Tuesday night, Heston Kjerstad is up to 19 home runs this season. His latest round-tripper was a bit untraditional, though, as it came on a line drive that got past the center fielder, allowing him to race around the bases.
Incredibly, it was the second inside-the-park home run of the year for Kjerstad, who isn’t particularly known for his speed.
That hit came in his 47th game with Triple-A Norfolk and was part of a 2-for-4 performance that raised his batting average in the highest minor league level to .337.
Kjerstad, the second overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft whose professional career was delayed because of a bout with myocarditis and other injuries, has done nothing but hit since leaving Fayetteville – and has actually gotten better as he’s climbed the ladder.
Before his midseason promotion, he slashed .310/.383/.576 in 46 games at Double-A Bowie. His OPS of .999 in Triple-A is 40 points higher than his .959 OPS in Double-A.
MLB Pipeline ranks Kjerstad as the Orioles’ fourth-best prospect, but two of the players ahead of him have already reached the big leagues. He is also No. 34 on the list of top 100 overall prospects.
Quick Promotions for Arkansas Baseball
Two former Arkansas baseball players who just got drafted last month have already begun their climb through the minor leagues.
As most draftees do, Jared Wegner and Tavian Josenberger were originally assigned to rookie ball after getting selected by the Yankees and Orioles, respectively, but neither spent much time there.
In just two games in the Florida Complex League (FCL), Wegner went 4 for 9 (.444) with two doubles, two home runs and six RBIs. That led to him being called up to Single-A Tampa, where he went 3 for 12 (.250). Even though he also struck out five times, Wegner was called up to High-A Hudson Valley on Tuesday.
Josenberger, on the other hand, is still searching for his first professional hit, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had some success. He went 0 for 6 in three rookie ball games, but drew four walks, went 2 for 3 on stolen base attempts and scored four runs while striking out just once.
That led to him getting promoted to Single-A, where he went 0 for 3 with a walk, stolen base and two strikeouts in his debut with Delmarva.
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