Orioles Surprise Heston Kjerstad Selection Sets Up An Intriguing Day 2 Of MLB Draft
It wasn’t until 7:15 p.m. ET on June 10 that the Baltimore Orioles were on the clock with the second pick of the 2020 MLB draft.
And as is Orioles executive vice president/GM Mike Elias’ way, the Orioles took their decision down to the wire.
This is nothing new. When Elias was scouting director for the Astros, they often took their decision on the 1-1 pick right down to the wire (in 2012, 2013 and 2014). Last year the Orioles decision to take Adley Rutchman, the consensus top player in the draft, was still a secret until the draft arrived.
Elias and his staff woke up on Wednesday having largely decided that they were going to draft a bat, but which bat was not nearly as clear.
“We really don’t decide 100 percent for sure and start blasting off the strategy until the last hour before the draft. You can really wake up each morning feeling a different way. It’s tough. There’s not a lot of separation between these guys,” Elias said. “We decided to focus on one of the bats. We really liked one of the pitchers in particular, but the bats we didn’t want to pass up. There was a big debate and analysis of which one was the way to go.”
While the industry consensus was that the Orioles would pick Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin, Baltimore ended up selecting Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad.
The expectation is that the Orioles will gain some financial flexibility for later picks by signing Kjerstad to a deal for less than the $7.789 million slot for pick No. 2, but Elias wanted to make it clear that they liked Kjerstad’s talent.
“This is a middle of the order bat profile for us. We feel he is the best lefthanded hitter in the country this year,” Elias said.
“We haven’t signed him yet, so it’s hard to say (his asking price) factored in at all. When you are picking that high you don’t want to feel like you’re not taking the guy that you want that is the right guy for you and your draft. We could have gone in a few directions. We liked several players. You are comparing good options. We had a top of the first round other than the Torkelson pick that didn’t go by the script. That’s why we do our jobs. You couldn’t have gone wrong with a couple of directions up there.”
Kjerstad has hit .343/.421/.590 over his three years at Arkansas. He had 37 career home runs and was slugging .791 when the 2020 season ended prematurely.
“I’m going to be an impact player for sure,” Kjerstad said. “I bring a lefthanded bat in the lineup with power to all parts of the field. I bring a good glove to the outfield, left or right. I’ll be a solid defender.”
The Orioles also selected Mississippi State shortstop Jordan Westburg with their supplemental first-round pick. The Orioles have four remaining picks, including the second pick of day two. Baltimore already had the largest bonus pool in the 2020 draft. After day one, they should have the ability to sign some overslot players if the opportunities arise.
“I think we are in a position where we may be able to be a little more lenient with signability relative to the rest of the picks and their slots. The tough thing this year is there aren’t many draft picks remaining,” Elias said. “We won’t be limited. We will be able to take the best talent on our board for the rest of our draft.”