Kjerstad Must Overcome More than Season Debut Dud for MLB Success

Heston Kjerstad, Arkansas baseball, Pro Hogs, Baltimore Orioles
photo credit: Norfolk Tides

As he was leaving the interview room following his typical postgame obligations earlier this month, Dave Van Horn was stopped by a reporter who had a message about a former Arkansas baseball star: Heston Kjerstad homered again tonight.

The veteran coach smiled and said, “He’s trying to prove a point.”

Fast forward a couple of weeks and it’s safe to say that point has been proven. After failing to make the Baltimore Orioles’ Opening Day roster, Kjerstad went on a tear through Triple-A. In just 21 games with the Norfolk Tides, he slashed .349/.431/.744 for an impressive 1.175 OPS with a whopping 10 home runs and 30 RBIs in 86 at bats.

Those video game-like numbers have now earned him a trip back to the big leagues. The Baltimore Sun’s Jacob Calvin Meyer first reported Monday night that he was being called up for his second stint with the Orioles, who confirmed the news Tuesday afternoon. The move comes as a result of an injury, which opened a spot for Kjerstad to fill.

Unfortunately, Kjerstad’s return to The Show was a dud. Starting in right field and batting eighth against the Los Angeles Angels in his season debut, not only did he go 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, but he also had a couple of defensive miscues – bobbling a ball to turn a single into a double and missing a cutoff man to allow another extra base.

Last season, he was a September call-up and appeared in 13 games, including eight starts. Although he hit just .233 and struck out 10 times in 33 plate appearances, Kjerstad still posted a .748 OPS largely because two of his seven hits were home runs.

Heston Kjerstad’s Path Back to The Show

The adversity Heston Kjerstad has encountered since being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft is well documented. A bout with myocarditis and multiple injuries delayed his professional debut by a couple of years and all he’s done since returning to action is hit.

Unfortunately for him, Kjerstad plays in an organization loaded with talent. That would explain why he’s not already a mainstay in Baltimore.

After his short stint in the big leagues last September, Kjerstad had a chance to make the team in spring training, but lost the battle for the Orioles’ fourth outfielder to fellow top prospect Colton Cowser, who now leads the American League with an .800 slugging percentage.

The hot start by Cowser made it even more difficult for Kjerstad to get called up, no matter how many home runs he hit in Triple-A. Still, an injury to Austin Hays has opened the door.

Hays is on the 10-day injured list because of a left calf strain that isn’t believed to be serious, so it may be a short stay for Kjerstad, but he could make things really tough on the Orioles if he produces in whatever opportunities he receives.

What those opportunities look like remains to be seen. Although he’s primarily a corner outfielder, Kjerstad has also played some first base in Triple-A this season and could be an option to fill in for Ryan Mountcastle, who is dealing with a knee injury. Designated hitter and pinch-hit chances off the bench are also possibilities.

That bat will certainly earn him some chances, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.

“I think right now the Orioles are going to do whatever they can to get Kjerstad in the lineup,” Morosi said. “Just an absolutely incredible start to the year. … When you hit that well, 10 homers in 21 games, they will find a spot for Heston Kjerstad.”

Joining Another Arkansas Star in Baltimore

Getting called up means Heston Kjerstad will once again be teammates with another former Arkansas baseball star: James McCann.

McCann is in his second season with the Orioles and has performed admirably as their backup catcher playing behind young superstar Adley Rutschman.

In 10 games, the former All-Star is 9 for 34 (.265) with a couple of doubles, one home run and five RBIs. That homer actually came Monday, about half an hour after news broke about Kjerstad being recalled.

It was a 377-foot line drive to left that had an exit velocity of 102.4 mph off a Reid Detmers fastball.

Update on MLB Pro Hogs

All stats below are updated through games on April 22.

  • Jalen Beeks (Rockies): 9 G/0 GS, 1-1, 3.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9 IP, 6 K/5 BB
  • Andrew Benintendi (White Sox): 19 G, .158/.200/.171, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 13 K/4 BB
  • Isaiah Campbell (Red Sox): 7 G/0 GS, 0-1, 12.79 ERA, 2.05 WHIP, 6.1 IP, 5 K/2 BB
    • Been on IL since April 12 with a shoulder injury
  • Dominic Fletcher (White Sox): 19 G, .211/.286/.281, 4 2B, 6 RBI, 18 K/4 BB
  • James McCann (Orioles): 10 G, .265/.265/.412, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 5 K/0 BB
  • Colin Poche (Rays): 9 G/0 GS, 2 saves, 4.32 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 8.1 IP, 6 K/3 BB
    • Ended his career at Dallas Baptist
  • Drew Smyly (Cubs): 9 G/0 GS, 2-2, 4.97 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 12.2 IP, 11 K/5 BB
    • Placed on 15-day IL because of a right hip impingement Tuesday, retroactive to April 22
  • Ryne Stanek (Mariners): 8 G/0 GS, 2 saves, 2.25 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 8 IP, 8 K/5 BB


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