Healthy again, Kjerstad looks toward '22

November 5th, 2021

Looking back on the past year-plus, admitted Friday “it hasn’t been fun.” But he’s convinced pushing through the adversity it brought will give him an “edge” and that better times are ahead.

Sidelined since August 2020 due to myocarditis, Kjerstad resumed baseball activity last month at the Orioles’ instructional camp in Sarasota, Fla., where their seventh-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline remains in a rehab process but is no longer looking backward. He’s focused on 2022, and making his long-awaited professional debut.

“I’m feeling really good at this point,” Kjerstad said on a Zoom call Friday, speaking publicly for the first time since Draft night 2020. “Over the past year I had to go through all this stuff, it wasn't fun mentally. It was pretty taxing. I'm young. I never thought of being sidelined for something of that nature. But it was something the Orioles helped me get through, to see plenty of great doctors that gave me a great plan to follow, and I followed those steps and was able to make it through. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel the whole time and now finally made it through all those steps, back playing and feeling great.”

It’s been a long, slow process to get there for Kjerstad, the second overall pick in the 2020 Draft. Later that summer, Kjerstad contracted COVID-19 and was shortly after diagnosed with myocarditis, a viral inflammation of the heart muscle. Then he waited, and waited, and … waited. It was a full year before doctors cleared Kjerstad to resume physical activity this August. He returned to the batting cage a month later and will progress to live batting practice next week, he said, with an eye toward arriving at Spring Training 2022 without restriction.

All told, if Kjerstad debuts as planned next April, it will come roughly 22 months since he was drafted. He last played competitively in March '20 for the University of Arkansas, where he was one of the top sluggers in college baseball’s most competitive conference. The O’s went underslot to sign Kjerstad for $5.2 million at No. 2, using the resulting savings to ink high school draftees and to over-slot deals. Mayo looks like one of the organization’s rising stars after a successful first season at Class A, while Baumler is on track to debut in '22 following Tommy John surgery.

“I’m feeling like my old self again,” Kjerstad said. “I think it’s going to give me a little bit of an edge in my game. I have a different perspective on everything now and more appreciation for playing the game and being healthy and just being able to do what I love.”

In the interim, Kjerstad endured a hiatus away from the game he described as “humbling” and “a challenge.” Myocarditis symptoms include shortness of breath and fatigue, requiring Kjerstad to eschew physical activity. He spent the time engaging with baseball as much as he could, inundating himself with televised games and compiling as many “mental reps” as possible. He said he expects to operate at a “full-go” this offseason, binging reps in the weight room with an eye toward filling the development gap. He turns 23 in February. 

“It's a really humbling experience to go through something like that at a young age, especially at the point in my career that I was at,” Kjerstad said. “I was ready to jump into the Minor Leagues and work my way up to the big leagues as soon as I could, and I had to put a pause on that. It was a challenge. But now I'm back where I wanted to be. I definitely tried to pick up some new hobbies here and there. But I couldn't find anything that stuck too much, because the one thing I wanted to do was play baseball, and I couldn't do it. So in the back of my mind, that was the true thing I wanted and nothing else really satisfied that.”