Although the 2020 season was only a month long, Arkansas Razorback outfielder Heston Kjerstad made the best of that month. He turbo-charged his statistics and raised his draft stock with a great month of offensive production.
That torrid start is the reason D1Baseball.com recently ranked Kjerstad as the No. 1 outfielder in college baseball:
- Heston Kjerstad, Arkansas
- Austin Martin, Vanderbilt
- Zach DeLoach, Texas A&M
- Garrett Mitchell, UCLA
- Tyler Gentry, Alabama
- Daniel Cabrera, LSU
- Jud Fabian, Florida
- Hudson Haskin, Tulane
- Chris Lanzilli, Wake Forest
- Dylan Neuse, Texas Tech
The rankings considered talent, past statistics, 2020 statistics, and the conference each player is in. The SEC was represented well in the rankings — six of the top seven outfielders were from SEC teams. Fourth-ranked Garrett Mitchell from UCLA was the odd man out.
Junior Heston Kjerstad, a projected first-round pick in next MLB Draft, saw great collegiate success early on. He was a professional hitter as soon as he stepped on campus. His production from the plate started his freshman season, featured a stint as Team USA’s top hitter, and was only getting better in 2020, when he won the Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week award for the first time in his career.
“His numbers are incredible: a .343/.421/.590 slash line, 37 home runs and 129 RBIs. For perspective, if you extrapolate those over 162 games – the length of a full MLB season – he’d have 40 home runs and 139 RBIs, in addition to his .343 batting average” noted Andrew Hutchinson of HawgBeat.com.
Kjerstad played 150 games as a Razorback, but only 16 came his junior season where he appeared to be at his best. This season Kjerstad was hitting .448/.513/.791, which are incredible numbers. He was getting on base more often than he was getting out. He also had six home runs and 20 RBIs.
Those 16 games were all in non-conference contests though. SEC conference games were set to start two days after Arkansas played their last game of the season.
If Heston maintained his season numbers for all of the 56-game 2020 campaign, he would have ended with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs on 105 hits and 67 runs scored going into the SEC Tournament and a likely NCAA tournament appearance.
Kjerstad was on pace to surpass some of the greatest hitters in program history, including Kevin McReynolds, Jeff King (an eventual No. 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft) and Zack Cox. Andrew Benintendi, however, produced the program’s best individual season as a sophomore in 2015 when he hit .376 with 20 home runs and drove in 57 runs in 65 games. Benintendi had a 1.205 OPS in that historic season compared to Kjerstad’s 1.304 in 2020.
Benintendi is Arkansas’ only winner of the Golden Spikes, college baseball’s top individual honor. Heston Kjerstad was producing numbers on pace to surpass all marks he set that season, albeit against only non-conference teams for a shorter period.
If you consider the careers of Benny Baseball and Kjerstad, then the kid from Amarillo, Texas takes the cake. As a freshman in 2014, Benintendi hit one home run in 61 games and batted only .276. Zack Cox, too, was outstanding as a sophomore in terms of hits and batting average, but not nearly as strong his freshman season. Kjerstad, on the other hand, has hit 37 home runs over three seasons and has a career .343 average.
Although Cox didn’t hit with nearly as much power as Kjerstad, he did set the Arkansas single-season records for batting average and hits.
Heston Kjerstad has been consistent and impressive in his career as a Razorback, helping lead two teams to the College World Series. He produced from the beginning of his career to the seeming end. His junior and likely final season as a Razorback was off to a miraculous start and it is too bad it ended so soon — he had a chance to do something special this season.
His last weekend series as a Hog ended with him hitting a walk-off bomb, a fitting end to what was on the brink of becoming the greatest offensive career in Razorback baseball history.
For more on a hitter with the talent to one day rank alongside the Arkansas greats, see this: