Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Orioles 'absolutely love this bat,' take Heston Kjerstad 2nd overall in MLB Draft
Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad (18) is congratulated by hitting coach Nate Thompson after hitting a home run during a game against Texas on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, during the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad was drafted second overall by the Baltimore Orioles in the MLB Draft on Wednesday.
Kjerstad, a junior from Amarillo, Texas, is the Razorbacks' highest draft pick since Jeff King was drafted first overall in 1986. He is the ninth Arkansas player to be drafted in the first round, and the first since Andrew Benintendi in 2015.
"I'm just excited to be part of Birdland now and embark on my next journey of professional baseball," Kjerstad said. "Right now I'm just excited to be a part of the Orioles. It's a dream come true for me."
Kjerstad was the only Arkansas player taken on the first day of the draft. The Razorbacks did not have any signees selected Wednesday.
According to MLB.com, the suggested bonus value for Kjerstad's position in the draft is in excess of $7.78 million. Kjerstad is expected to sign and skip his remaining eligibility with the Razorbacks.
By selecting him higher than he was projected, the Orioles could pay Kjerstad well under slot value and use the savings on other picks in the draft. Baltimore has the largest bonus pool in this year's draft at more than $13.89 million.
“We absolutely love this bat,” Baltimore general manager Mike Elias said on a Twitter video. “He was the best left-handed hitter in the country this year, plays a good right field. He’s a big guy with gigantic power. It’s power to all fields; it’s not just pull power."
Kjerstad said the Orioles had shown "quite a bit of interest" prior to the draft. His selection came as a surprise to most because he was projected to be drafted by many between seventh and 10th overall.
"I wasn't really trying to get my hopes up for any pick," Kjerstad said. "I was just waiting for the phone to ring, and sure enough the Detroit Tigers turned in their pick, the phone rang and it was the Orioles. They wanted to pick me with their second pick and I couldn't say yes quick enough to that."
Arizona State third baseman Spencer Torkelson was drafted first overall by the Tigers.
Kjerstad said his family has known Orioles scout Ken Guthrie "forever, so they know where I come from."
The Orioles used a high-round draft pick on a Razorbacks player for the second time in three years. Former Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight was drafted in the third round by Baltimore in 2018.
Kjerstad said he and Knight communicated twice Wednesday - once with a good-luck message in the morning, and again with a congratulatory message in the evening.
Kjerstad was a three-year starter at Arkansas and helped the Razorbacks to the College World Series twice. He was a Freshman All-America left fielder in 2018 when he batted .332 with 14 home runs and a team-high 58 RBI on the Razorbacks' national runner-up team.
He batted .327 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI as a sophomore, and was off to a hot start before his junior season was suspended after 16 games due to the covid-19 outbreak.
Kjerstad was a national player of the week after he hit four home runs and had 10 RBI during the Razorbacks' opening-weekend sweep of Eastern Illinois in February. He finished the season with a .448 batting average, 6 home runs, 5 doubles and 20 RBI.
He was slugging .791 and had an on-base percentage of .513 at the time the season was suspended.
"He’s had a tremendous career at Arkansas and was having a ridiculous season before the shutdown happened and he’s been flying up boards ever since," Elias said. "We’re so excited about him. We think he’s a middle-of-the-order bat. Great kid, blue-collar kid, hard-working kid from a good family and a tremendous addition to our farm system.”
Kjerstad is the fourth Arkansas player to be drafted in the top 10 overall, joining King, Benintendi (seventh, 2015) and Kevin McReynolds (sixth, 1981).
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