Heston Kjerstad Wins 2022 Arizona Fall League MVP

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — After health issues delayed his professional debut for two years, Heston Kjerstad largely made up for lost time in the Arizona Fall League.

An outfielder selected by Baltimore second overall in the 2020 draft, Kjerstad smashed a 424-foot homer on the opening day of the development circuit and never stopped raking. The Orioles Prospect No. 9 led the AFL in hits (35), doubles (nine), extra hits (15) and total bases (61) and ranked in the top five in several other categories while beating .357/.385/.622.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Kjerstad said. “There are obviously a lot of great players here that I play against who are playing really well here, but to be the one to receive this is a really big honour.

The Fall League honored Kjerstad with its Joe Black MVP Award on Saturday, placing him in the same company as previous winners such as Nolan Arenado (2011), Kris Bryant (2013) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (2017).

“It’s really cool to be part of this group,” Kjerstad said.

Kjerstad hit 37 homers in three seasons at Arkansas, establishing himself as the top college left-handed power hitter in the 2020 draft. Expected to be around the 10th overall pick, he instead dropped to second because Baltimore enjoyed his pop and because he had accepted a bonus of less than $5.2 million which freed up more money for later picks.

Kjerstad didn’t have a chance to justify his selection on the field until 2022 when he was diagnosed with myocarditis, a viral inflammation of the heart, shortly after the draft. The condition kept him out of the Orioles’ pedagogical league program in 2020 or playing in the minors in 2021. He eventually made his pro debut in June and hit .309/.394/.457 with five homers in 65 matches between Single-A and High-A.

“I went through difficulties [in High-A], but it was something I looked forward to when I came here. It wouldn’t have been a great way to end my season,” Kjerstad said. “Let’s see what we can do here. Clean slate, let’s go, I’ve been working on some things, let’s see how they’ll pay off and how it works for me. Luckily I had a pretty good time here, so it was fun.”

Although best known for his power, Kjerstad is also a decent athlete at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. He has a strong arm that fits well in right field. He’s batted 31 times to just five walks in 104 AFL plate appearances, in part because he’s focused on finding pitches to drive early in the at-bats, an approach that can leave him behind in the tally.

Once Kjerstad tightens his plate discipline, he could give Baltimore another midrange bat to go along with Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson. The franchise’s future looks much better than a year ago, as does Kjerstad’s.

“It’s really exciting. We all want to have a great career, a great future, but it’s going to be cool to be part of a team that’s really competitive in the playoffs and hopefully competing really well and doing very good playoffs,” Kjerstad said. “Playing baseball is fun, but we all know winning is way more fun. Hopefully being able to get up there and be part of winning teams and a culture like that is going to be a lot of fun in the future. coming.”

The full list of AFL Joe Black MVP award winners:

2021 — Nelson Velázquez, OF, Mesa (Cubs)
2019 — Royce Lewis, SS/OF, Salt River (twins)
2018 — Keston Hiura, 2B, Peoria (Brewers)
2017 — Ronald Acuña, DE, Peoria (Braves)
2016 – Gleyber Torres, SS, Scottsdale (Yankees)
2015 — Adam Engel, DE, Glendale (White Sox)
2014 — Greg Bird, 1B, Scottsdale (Yankees)
2013 — Kris Bryant, 3B, Mesa (Cubs)
2012 — Chris McGuiness, 1G, Surprise (Rangers)
2011 — Nolan Arenado, 3B, Salt River (Rockies)
2010 – Dustin Ackley, 2B, Peoria (Mariners)
2009 — Grant Desme, OF, Phoenix (athletics)
2008 — Tommy Hanson, RHP, Mesa (Braves)
2007 — Sam Fuld, OF, Mesa (Cubs)
2006 — Chip Cannon, 1B, Phoenix (Blue Jays)
2005 — Eric Duncan, 3B, Grand Canyon (Yankees)
2004 — Chris Shelton, DH, Grand Canyon (Tigers)
2003 — Jason Dubois, OF, Mesa (Cubs)
2002 — Ken Harvey, 1B, Scottsdale (Royals)

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