Kjerstad homers on first pitch back at Triple-A

May 16th, 2024

needed only one swing to herald his return to Triple-A -- with that loud, distinctive thwack of bat hitting ball destined for the seats.

Optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk after a three-week stint in the Majors, MLB's No. 23 prospect wasted no time. Kjerstad homered on the first pitch he saw from Lehigh Valley right-hander Tyler Phillips, lofting the 94.4 mph sinker over the wall in left-center field at Harbor Park.

The Orioles' No. 4 prospect went 1-for-3 with a couple strikeouts in the Tides’ 4-3 loss to the IronPigs in their Wednesday doubleheader opener.

But the long ball was the kind of display Norfolk has been accustomed to seeing from Kjerstad, who dominated at Triple-A before his callup. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 Draft led the International League with 10 homers in 21 games when he was summoned to Baltimore on April 23 to replace the injured Austin Hays on the O's active roster.

Even with Hays down, there wasn’t consistent playing time for Kjerstad given the Orioles’ talented outfield alignment, with Colton Cowser, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander lining up left to right on most nights. Kjerstad found himself in a similar situation upon making his MLB debut at the end of the ‘23 season, posting a .784 OPS with two home runs in 13 games.

All told in the big leagues, Kjerstad has hit .205 with two homers and a .649 OPS in just 50 plate appearances. So the Orioles are prioritizing consistent at-bats for him in Triple-A rather than irregular opportunities in the Majors.

The thing is, Kjerstad might not have much left to prove at the Minors' highest level. He’s hitting a robust .337/.417/.739 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs in 23 games for the Tides this year.

Dating back to last season, he’s compiled a slash line of .307/.382/.556 with 21 homers and 63 RBIs in 99 games at Triple-A.

And he's far from alone. The Orioles have almost an entire team of top position player prospects at Norfolk who are big league-ready or nearly big league-ready -- without an obvious path to real playing time in Baltimore. Top overall prospect Jackson Holliday isn't exactly in that category after struggling recently in his first callup, but has been excelling for the Tides. No. 21 overall prospect Coby Mayo and Connor Norby (BAL No. 6) seem to be blocked at the big league level.

What remains to be seen is whether the Orioles are willing to deal from at the July 30 Trade Deadline, at which point it seems likely they will be gearing up for another playoff run.