After glimpse of MLB in '23, Kjerstad vying for O's roster spot

February 20th, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The news was delivered to on an evening early last June: He was being promoted from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk.

Coby Mayo, a fellow Orioles prospect and Kjerstad’s roommate/teammate at the time, was thrilled.

“To be honest with you, I was kind of fortunate that he left for Norfolk, so I could win that [Eastern League] MVP,” Mayo, MLB Pipeline’s No. 30 overall prospect, said with a smile. “Because I think if he stayed in Bowie any longer, he would have probably won that MVP.”

A new trophy (which Mayo did end up winning) wasn’t the only reason he was happy for his friend. He felt other sentiments -- ones he experienced again when Kjerstad was called up to the big leagues for the first time last Sept. 14.

“It was well deserved, super earned. He works really hard,” Mayo said. “He’s super smart in the box. He knows what to look for. He’s a very experienced hitter. And I just can’t say enough about how much he knows about the game.”

Everybody in Baltimore’s organization raves about Kjerstad’s bat. The 25-year-old, who is MLB Pipeline’s No. 32 overall prospect, hasn’t stopped raking since he won Arizona Fall League MVP in November 2022.

Last year marked the first time Kjerstad played a full professional season, because the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft had a delayed start to his career due to myocarditis. He impressed in his first big league Spring Training, then posted a .303/.376/.528 slash line with 29 doubles, eight triples, 21 home runs and 55 RBIs in 122 games between Bowie and Norfolk.

The performance earned Kjerstad a late-season call to The Show, where he collected his first seven hits, two homers and three RBIs during a 13-game stint in MLB.

His .233/.281/.467 slash line in the limited action doesn’t jump off the page, but the knowledge gained was valuable beyond numbers.

“I learned a lot. It was a fun experience for me, definitely,” Kjerstad said. “It showed me the level of play and the competition you’re going to face. It gave me a little taste to where now, I want more, for sure.”

Kjerstad even got a small taste of last year’s postseason. He never got into a game, but he was included on the Orioles’ 26-man roster for the American League Division Series. He stood with his teammates in disbelief when the eventual World Series champion Rangers completed a three-game sweep of the O’s last Oct. 10 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

Heading into the 2024 season, Kjerstad is poised for more time in the big leagues. There’s a decent chance he could break camp with the Orioles and be included on their roster for Opening Day on March 28 vs. the Angels at Camden Yards.

“I’m just going to focus on taking care of my business, taking care of myself, and if I do that, everything else will fall into its place,” Kjerstad said. “For me, it’s just getting better every day. Every opportunity I get to come to the field is a chance for me to improve my craft and improve my skill and, hopefully, have an opportunity to break with the team.”

That’s a good mentality to have, because it’s not a lock Kjerstad will make the roster.

Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander are firmly entrenched as Baltimore’s starting outfielders. The team will carry either one or two more from a group that includes Kjerstad, Colton Cowser (MLB Pipeline’s No. 19 overall prospect), Ryan McKenna, Kyle Stowers, Sam Hilliard and Daniel Johnson (a non-roster invitee).

“We’ve got a pretty talented group,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’re looking for bench bats or guys that can platoon or guys that can step in and start.”

The main reason to choose Kjerstad is his bat, which could lead to him getting a lot of starts at designated hitter, should he make the team. But the Orioles remain confident in his ability to play right field. Plus, Kjerstad played some first base last season and worked out there during the offseason, which could allow him to have a secondary position in the future.

If Kjerstad is on the roster, Baltimore will find ways to get him at-bats. His .886 OPS in 187 Minor League games is the explanation for that.

Whenever Kjerstad gets his next MLB opportunity -- one that could become a permanent stay -- he’ll be ready for it. And he’s eager to try to work his way into the Orioles’ Opening Day plans.

“It’s always super exciting to start another year,” Kjerstad said. “It’s a clean slate, and you’ve just got to write another story, see what you can do.”