Kjerstad shows off power stroke in AFL debut

October 4th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After the Orioles selected No. 2 overall in the 2020 Draft, it took two years before he could make his pro debut. Diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, he couldn't participate at Baltimore's alternate site or instructional league during the pandemic shutdown, and he missed the entire 2021 season as well.

Kjerstad played the final three months of this season, batting a combined .309/.394/.457 with five homers in 65 games between Single-A and High-A. Now the No. 9 Orioles prospect is making up for more lost at-bats in the Arizona Fall League with the Scottsdale Scorpions, and he used Opening Day to show off the left-handed power that earned him a $5.2 million bonus.

Kjerstad snapped a 4-4 tie with the Mesa Solar Sox by crushing a seventh-inning home run over the Charro Lodge in right field at Scottsdale Stadium. He victimized right-hander Leam Mendez (Yankees) with a shot that traveled 424 feet with an exit velocity of 110 mph, according to Trackman.

For the first time as a pro, Kjerstad recorded multiple extra-base hits in the same game. The right fielder went 3-for-5 and drove in an insurance run with an eighth-inning double as Scottsdale prevailed, 7-4. He said he wasn't quite sure if his homer was the longest he had hit as a pro.

"I got that one pretty good," Kjerstad said. "There was one earlier in the year in Asheville similar to that but a little bit more to right-center. But I'll take a home run any day of the week no matter how far it goes."

Besides getting more experience against advanced pitchers, Kjerstad said he's hoping to refine his plate discipline and improve his plate coverage while with the Scorpions. He relishes being back on the diamond after his long layoff.

"It feels better than what I remembered," he said. "After everything I've been through, it's just a lot of fun being out here. You show up to the park every day hoping to do damage, help your team win and just keep getting better."

The Orioles have had a lot of success with their recent first-round choices. Adley Rutschman (2019) won Baltimore's team MVP award as a rookie this year, Colton Cowser ('21) reached Triple-A in his first full pro season, and Jackson Holliday ('22) had a strong pro debut that reinforced the notion that he had the best combination of hitting ability and tools in this year's crop. Kjerstad said he's excited to be part of an organization with so much young talent and doesn't feel any pressure from being a No. 2 overall pick.

"Everybody has expectations for you, but I put higher expectations on myself than what anybody thinks I'm capable of," Kjerstad said. "I want to be the best I can be and I want to find out how good I can become."

Scottsdale relievers Nick Richmond (Orioles), Alex Segal (Braves), Kelvin Caceres (Braves), Tyler Myrick (Giants) and Jacob Webb (Red Sox) combined to throw six scoreless innings after the Scorpions fell behind 4-0. Caceres earned the win after striking out the side in the top of the seventh.