In 2017, Kjerstad graduated from Canyon Randall High School, Amarillo, Texas.
Heston is the younger brother of Marlins outfielder Dex Kjerstad.
His parents moved to Amarillo, Texas, started their own business, and worked, along with both sons, to make that business a major success. It was a water well business.
In 2020, his parents broke ground on their third store in Amarillo.
Kjerstad worked all through his youth in the family business. At age 5, he would check customers out while standing on an upside-down bucket, so he could reach the cash register.
In 2017, Heston was the Mariners' 36th round pick, but Kjerstad chose the Univ. of Arkansas instead.
Kjerstad teamed with fellow top prospect Casey Martin to lead Arkansas to back-to-back College World Series appearances in their first two years of college. His 14 homers in 2018 broke the school freshman record of 13 set by eventual first-rounder Zack Cox in 2009, and Kjerstad encored with 17 as a sophomore. He offers the best left-handed power in the 2020 college class and only potential No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson had more pop among collegians heading into the 2020 Draft.
Kjerstad played for Bourne in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2019.
The 2019 Season: A strong freshman season was followed up with a very similar sophomore one. In 65 games for the Razorbacks he hit .327/.400/.575 with 13 doubles, a triple, and 17 home runs. In his 300 plate appearances he had 21 walks and 65 strikeouts, seeing both his walk and strikeout rates trend in the wrong direction. The power played, though.
The 2020 Season: Things got out to a very good start for Heston Kjerstad in 2020 during his non-conference play before the start of the SEC season that never really came. In his 16 games he hit .448/.513/.791 with 5 doubles, 6 home runs, 7 walks, and 9 strikeouts. Like everyone else, his season came to an early end in early March.
Heston loves going fishing.
June 2020: Kjerstad was the Orioles first-round pick (#2 overall, behind only Spencer Torkelson), out of the Univ. of Arkansas.
June 30, 2020: Kjerstad, a consensus top 10 Draft prospect the Orioles surprised many by selecting No. 2 overall, agreed for $5.2 million, sources told MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis -- two-thirds of his slot value of $7.8 million. Heston signed with scout Ken Guthrie.
July 1, 2020: The first time Ken Guthrie met Heston Kjerstad, a lot was different. Heston was only 11 years old. Guthrie, the O’s North Texas area scout, was coaching Kjerstad’s older brother Dexter on a summer ball team from the Dallas-Fort Worth area that also included a young Dylan Bundy. At that time, the player who’d become the prize of Guthrie’s scouting career was just a spectator.
“My focus was on the field at the time,” Guthrie remembered. “And I would see Heston running around in the stands and his parents trying to keep track of him.”
“I was just a little kid back then,” Kjerstad recalled.
Fast forward a few years, and Guthrie was scouting for the Orioles when the younger Kjerstad began to garner attention as a talented high school junior. Kjerstad was a switch-hitter, having yet to commit to batting left-handed full-time. He was also smaller. Not preteen small, but far from the 6-foot-3, 220-pound slugger who’d grow to dominate the Southeastern Conference.
“I wasn’t the player in high school I am now,” Kjerstad said. “I’ve changed a lot since I first met him.”
But Kjerstad was talented enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Arkansas and to be a 36th-round selection by the Mariners in the 2017 Draft. He had jumped on Guthrie’s radar, too, thanks to a strong showing in the Connie Mack World Series, an elite amateur showcase held annually in Farmington, N.M. The Orioles were interested in and curious of the player Kjerstad would become in Fayetteville.
“That was the first time I really considered Heston was an MLB prospect,” Guthrie said. “When I was in the clubhouse prior to his freshman spring season, I was sitting down with [then-Razorbacks pitching coach Wes Johnson], who is now the pitching coach of the Minnesota Twins, and Heston walked in. He looked like a completely different person. I knew then and there I probably underestimated what his power tool was going to be. He proved my notion right.”
Kjerstad had ditched switch-hitting in the year or so prior, shelving his natural right-handed swing for his more powerful left-handed stroke. And he’d grown. Guthrie kept in touch, checking in with Kjerstad and his family whenever he passed through Fayetteville. He kept checking in, and Kjerstad kept growing, putting up power numbers to match the spurt.
Kjerstad hit 14 homers his first spring on campus, setting Arkansas’ single-season freshman record. He then went deep 14 times as a sophomore, helping the Razorbacks to consecutive College World Series appearances, and six times in 16 games this spring while halving his strikeout rate in a small sample.
By the time the Orioles made Kjerstad the second overall selection in this Draft, what they saw was what executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias called “a rare combination of power and the ability to hit for average, and what we feel is a swing and an approach that will convert that production to the professional game.” It comes courtesy of unique swing mechanics Kjerstad described as having “naturally developed.”
“It was like playing the guitar,” Kjerstad said. “It’s my form of art and I have my own unique rhythm with it.”
On Draft night, the O's were still talking about one of the homers Kjerstad's unique swing produced -- the 430-foot shot he sent out of center field at Houston’s Minute Maid Park during this spring’s Shriners Classic, one of the collegiate schedule’s premier annual tournaments. Elias called Kjerstad “the best left-handed hitter in the country” upon drafting him second overall, bypassing several more highly ranked prospects to do so.
The question now for the Orioles is: How can they put Kjerstad in the best position to get even better? Elias was noncommittal when asked if Kjerstad would be included in the club’s 60-player pool later this summer, though he indicated earlier in the week that some 2020 draftees were likely to eventually be added. The O's have only committed 44 players to their pool thus far, none of whom are prospects. They are expected to open a satellite camp at one of their Minor League affiliates in the coming weeks, using it to balance MLB roster depth needs and the development needs of their top prospects.
There is no Minor League season this year, so the Orioles must decide if they prefer to have Kjerstad work out in a controlled environment or if they are comfortable with him training remotely from his home in North Texas, and participating in the array of virtual initiatives their player development and strength and conditioning departments are making available over Zoom.
Elias called it a conundrum that “applies to every Minor League baseball player in the world right now.”
“It’s definitely tough not being able to go out and play games, because me, personally, I think that’s the best way to improve as a player is to be playing every day and facing high-level competition,” Kjerstad said. “Every Minor Leaguer is struggling with the same thing. Nobody is going to face competition, so you need to be a little creative in your training. And also making sure maybe you’re getting live at-bats wherever you’re at with a group of guys or doing a lot of machine work to simulate real at-bats and things like that. Just stay prepared.
“You’ve always got to keep improving.” (J Trezza - MLB.com - July 1, 2020)
In 2021, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Kjerstad as the 4th-best prospect in the Orioles organization. He was at #8 a year later, in 2022. And he was at #12 in the spring of 2023. He was at #5 early in 2024.
2020 Season: Kjerstad was the Orioles’ first draft choice in 2020, but because of the canceled minor league season and myocarditis, enlargement of the heart, he wasn’t able to play.
The condition carried into 2021. After a brief stay in Sarasota, the 22-year-old outfielder from the University of Arkansas went home and didn’t return until last month (Sept.), when he posted a video of himself hitting.
2022 Season: Kjerstad hit a combined .309/.394/.457 between Single-A Delmarva and High-A Aberdeen in 2022. “And figuring out how you can make yourself better to work towards the end goal: making it to the big leagues.”
Kjerstad showed very quickly upon his return to the field that the Carolina League was no match for him, posting a 1.201 OPS in 22 games, so the Orioles challenged him with the move up to the South Atlantic League. That was more of a struggle, with a .674 OPS in 43 games, and he knows he’ll have to learn to adapt in order to keep moving up. He was also named MVP of the Arizona Fall League.
Oct 18, 2022: This is not how Heston Kjerstad drew it up when he dreamed about his professional career, but watching the Orioles’ No. 9 prospect in action with the Scottsdale Scorpions this fall, it’s easy to see he’s very much enjoying re-writing the script.
By now, most know the story. The Orioles took Kjerstad as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 Draft out of Arkansas. That was a weird enough time with the pandemic having shortened the college season and then there being no chance for new draftees to begin their Minor League career. But Kjerstad then missed the 2021 season and didn’t play until June of this year due to the lingering effects of myocarditis, a viral inflammation of the heart that surfaced shortly after the Draft.
“Through the time I had off away from the game, just trying to get back out there, there are those points where you're wondering when it was going to be, but once it finally came, it was good to be back,” Kjerstad said. “I have an appreciation for the game after being away from it. Everything's a lot more fun after you get sidelined for a little bit.”
He’s certainly having fun in Arizona. Heading into Week 3 of the AFL, Kjerstad led the circuit with 28 total bases while hitting .357/.386/.667 with four doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs. He shook off the rust during the regular season and got back to remembering what it meant to be a prospect pretty quickly.
“I think from the first day you step on the field, that stuff goes in the rearview and you’re just focused on trying to be the best player you can be,” said Kjerstad, who hit a combined .309/.394/.457 between Single-A Delmarva and High-A Aberdeen in 2022. “And figuring out how you can make yourself better to work towards the end goal: making it to the big leagues.”
“Each level is a little bit of a change,” said Kjerstad, who is focusing on his plate discipline and driving the ball to all fields during his time with Scottsdale. “Everybody’s a little bit better in some way, whether it’s better stuff from the pitchers or better command. But that’s the name of the game, you always have to be making adjustments and making sure you’re staying on top of your game, because you’ll get exposed if you’re not making changes and adjustments to make yourself better.” (J Mayo - MLB.com - Oct 18, 2022)
In 2022, Kjerstad was the AFL MVP.
After not being able to make his pro debut until June of this year because of myocarditis, the 2020 first-round pick was just happy to be on the field at all. The O’s No. 9 prospect played like it, too, leading the AFL in total bases (61) and finishing with a robust .357/.385/.622 line in 22 games with Scottsdale. He finished in the top five in average, slugging, home runs (5) and RBIs (17).
Kjerstad represented the Orioles at the 2023 All-Star Futures Game.
The Baltimore Orioles called up outfield prospect Heston Kjerstad, the team announced. Kjerstad, 24, was selected No. 2 by the Orioles in the 2020 MLB Draft. He slashed .303/.376/.528 with 21 home runs in 122 games across Triple A and Double A this year.
Kjerstad ranked No. 56 in The Athletic’s Keith Law’s prospect rankings in July and currently ranks as the No. 24 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Kjerstad looked very good this year and continues to make contact at higher rates even as he’s moved up the ladder to Triple A, with just a 17.5 percent strikeout rate at that level — lower than his strikeout rate in his last full year at the University of Arkansas. Kjerstad has always made very hard contact, which the Orioles hoped would become 25-30 homer power as they worked with him on his hitting, and that seems to be where he is now. (Law - Sep 14, 2023 - The Athletic)
MLB debut (Sept. 15, 2023): Orioles fans had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of Heston Kjerstad, and he did not disappoint in his MLB debut. In a memorable moment at Camden Yards, Kjerstad, the Orioles’ No. 3 prospect, showcased his immense potential by smacking a solo home run in his first MLB hit during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays. (Pablo Ricalde)
2023 Season: Kjerstad got a brief taste of the majors in 2023, and even made the postseason roster. In his first 30 major league at bats, Kjerstad sustained a solid .748 OPS and hit 2 home runs. He didn't light the league on fire, but I think Kjerstad showed enough last season between the majors and minors to become a long-term piece for the O's going forward.
Kjerstad can flat out hit, and he showed it last season in Double-A and Triple-A. Across both levels, Kjerstad slashed .303/.376/.528 with 21 homeruns and 55 RBIs. He has tremendous power and has shown the ability to hit the ball to all fields.
The Orioles were in the bottom half of the league in home runs hit this season. They didn't have any hitters reach 30 home runs, with Gunnar Henderson and Anthony Santander leading the team with 28. (Justin Long - Oct. 22, 2023)
|Orioles #1 - 2020 - Out of Univ. of Arkansas
Kjerstad, a lefthanded hitter, has quick hands and gets the barrel into the zone quickly. He has an impact bat.
Heston still has a unique swing with a high leg kick and a short stroke to the baseball, and he shows a knack for finding the barrel and hitting the ball hard at good angles. Kjerstad is advanced at formulating attack plans based on the pitcher he’s facing and proved adept at making contact on pitches in the zone, but he’s not a particularly stingy swinger, which could create challenges in the majors. However, his ability to put the bat on the ball could make him an average hitter with plus or better power. Kjerstad generates impressive carry off the bat and boasts power to all fields, often letting the location of the pitch determine where he drives it. (Jon Meoli - BA Pros[ect Handbook - Spring, 2024)
More than anything, the 2022 season was a win for Kjerstad simply because he got on the field and competed for the first time in over two years. Beyond that, he started to show that his left-handed power bat has the chance to have an impact at this level. There’s strength and bat speed and even though there’s some swing-and-miss that’s still a part of his game that might always make him more power-over-hit, he showed a willingness to work counts and take walks as well as the ability to punish the baseball. His approach suffered a bit when he moved up to High-A and his K rate went up in the AFL, though he hit the ball consistently hard in Arizona. (BA - Spring 2023)
Heston makes a lot of quality contact with a unique swing that features an aggressive leg-lift, but issues with his approach have led to elevated strikeout numbers due to chase. The Orioles believe consistent game action can help him improve that, with exposure to high-level pitching a priority in Kjerstad’s development. The club also believes Kjerstad will continue to regain the strength he lost from his time away to recapture his power stroke as time goes on.
His ceiling remains that of a bat-first slugging outfielder on a winning team, but Kjerstad’s pending introduction to the high minors in 2023 will show how realistic reaching that will be. (Jon Meoli - Baseball America Prospect Handbook - Spring, 2023)
Because of unforeseen circumstances, Kjerstad remains something of an unknown quantity to the Orioles and the baseball world at large. He was seen as the best left-handed power bat among college hitters in his Draft class, with significant strength and bat speed and well-above average raw power to all fields.
Heston was an aggressive hitter in college with some swing-and-miss attributed to the moving parts in his swing. It’s a herky-jerky swing with a hitch that sometimes made it tougher for Kjerstad to be on time consistently, but that may have been altered in the 23-some months since he left campus. Whether he’s tailored that swing to make more contact and how well he maintained strength during the layoff will be two points of emphasis for the eyes on Kjerstad as he gets acclimated to pro ball.
Kjerstad resumed baseball activity at the Orioles’ training complex late last year, and while he went more than two years without playing in a competitive game, he managed to hit his way from Single- to High-A in short order in 2022. He’s just 23, plenty young enough to make up the time missed and climb up the Orioles’ system. He’s still seen as a potential middle-of-the-order hitter. (Spring 2022)
Heston was touted as a potential middle-of-the-order bat with plus-plus raw power and the ability to utilize it in games. The moving parts of his swing introduced strikeouts risk, but the Orioles saw the type of improvement over his college career to believe that could be managed.
Kjerstad had the best left-handed power bat among college hitters in the 2020 Draft. With strength and bat speed to spare, he has well-above-average raw power to all fields. An aggressive hitter who has some swing-and-miss to his game – a sacrifice the Orioles will have to make to get his power production – Kjerstad has a lot of moving parts to his swing, which makes it a little tougher for him to be on time consistently. It’s a setup that worked at Arkansas and he made strides during his shortened junior year to simplify and make more contact. (Spring 2021)
Kjerstad's strength and bat speed give him well-above-average 70 grade raw power to all fields. He has a complicated swing that features a big hand circle in his load, so he has to be precise with his timing to make it work -- but he did so in college.
Heston as a 50 grade hit tool. He has a fair bit of movement in his swing and will swing and miss, but his much-improved plate coverage leads the Orioles to believe he can be an above-average hitter with all-fields power. He turns around hard line drives on pitches anywhere in the strike zone.
Heston was the top performer in the U.S. collegiate team's lineup last summer. He's an aggressive hitter who always will accumulate strikeouts as a tradeoff for his pop. (Spring 2020)
Heston is a 60 grade power hitter, and displays more consistency than most. He has a 45 grade hit tool.
Evaluators praised Heston’s ability to hit a variety of different fastballs and breaking pitches, and they also admired his hitting in two-strike counts, which was something of a surprise for a player with his strikeout tendencies.
Kjerstad has power to all parts of the yard.
Heston has a complicated swing that features a big hand circle in his load, so he has to be precise with his timing to make it work. He's an aggressive hitter who always will accumulate strikeouts as a trade-off for his pop.
Kjerstad's strength and bat speed give him well-above-average raw power to all fields. He has a complicated swing that features a big hand circle in his load, so he has to be precise with his timing to make it work -- but he has done so in college and was the top performer in the U.S. collegiate team's lineup in 2020. He's an aggressive hitter who always will accumulate strikeouts as a tradeoff for his pop.
Nov 12, 2022: The Fall League honored Kjerstad with its Joe Black MVP Award on Saturday, putting him in the same company as previous winners such as Nolan Arenado (2011), Kris Bryant (2013) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (2017).
An outfielder selected by Baltimore second overall in the 2020 Draft, Kjerstad crushed a 424-foot home run on Opening Day of the developmental circuit and never stopped raking. The No. 9 Orioles prospect led the AFL in hits (35), doubles (nine), extra-base hits (15) and total bases (61) and ranked in the top five in several other categories while batting .357/.385/.622. (J Callis - MLB.com - Nov 12, 2022)
Heston has quick-twitch athleticism in the outfield. And he is a 50-grade, average defender in right field. He is a bat-first corner outfielder.
Defensively, Kjerstad fits nicely into an outfield corner, with a strong arm that works in right field. It’s his bat that will continue to carry him up the ladder, though, with the hope that his AFL experience serves as a springboard. (BA - Spring 2023)
He’s still seen as a potential middle-of-the-order hitter, a bat-first corner outfielder with an above-average arm and who moves well enough to profile in right field long-term. (Spring 2022)
Speed will never be a big part of his game, but Kjerstad is better underway and moves well enough to be a solid corner outfielder. An above-average arm and potential to hit in the middle of a big league lineup should profile well in right field in the future.
While Kjerstad will likely never be a plus defender, he has taken big strides in his defensive effort in the corner outfield.
Kjerstad has a solid 60 grade arm and his throws are accurate.
- Heston plays a capable right field. His huge power and solid arm strength fit the profile for the position.
- Heston is a good runner, clocked at 6.5 in the 60. However, even though he does record below-average running times out of the batter's box, he displays average speed once he gets going. He's not a threat on the bases. He gets a 40 grade on his speed.
- Though Kjerstad records below-average running times out of the batter's box, he displays average speed once he gets going. He's not a threat on the bases.
October, 2020: Kjerstad wasn’t able to report to instructional league because of a “medical non-sports related reason,” per executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias. Kjerstad also had been excluded from the 60-man pool over the summer.
Feb 13, 2021: Orioles' GM/EVP Mike Elias said Kjerstad was sidelined due to “an episode of myocarditis,” a viral infection that causes inflammation of the heart muscle. Elias said Kjerstad is expected to report to Spring Training late due to the condition.
“He’s doing really well and we’re going to have him at the camp, but we’re still emerging from the timeline of that,” Elias said. “It’s a bit of a lengthy recovery timeline and there are also risk factors associated with the ongoing pandemic we need to be very mindful and careful about as well.”
Aug 20, 2021: It’s been more than 14 months since the Orioles drafted Heston Kjerstad second overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, and he’s still yet to play professionally. But the club’s No. 7 prospect is now trending in that direction.
Orioles general manager and executive vice president Mike Elias said that Kjerstad has begun physical activity at the club’s Sarasota, Fla., complex for the first time. Kjerstad, 22, had been sidelined due to myocarditis -- inflammation of the heart muscle.
Nov 5, 2021: “I’m feeling really good at this point,” Kjerstad said on a Zoom call, speaking publicly for the first time since Draft night 2020. “Over the past year I had to go through all this stuff, it wasn't fun mentally. It was pretty taxing. I'm young. I never thought of being sidelined for something of that nature. But it was something the Orioles helped me get through, to see plenty of great doctors that gave me a great plan to follow, and I followed those steps and was able to make it through. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel the whole time and now finally made it through all those steps, back playing and feeling great.”
He’s focused on 2022, and making his long-awaited professional debut. (J Trezza - MLB.com - Nov 5, 2021)
March, 2022: Heston injured his hamstring in an intrasquad game. Kjerstad was expected to be out 8-12 weeks.
April 1-June 10th, 2022: Heston was on the IL with the hammy pull.