BALTIMORE — Heston Kjerstad’s initial 13-game stint in the big leagues last season provided a four-week period of his life he’ll never forget.
On Sept. 14, the Orioles called up the 24-year-old Kjerstad (the club’s No. 3 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 24 overall prospect) to provide some left-handed pop during their stretch run. Baltimore went on to win the American League East title for the first time since 2014, finishing with a 101-61 record and making its first postseason appearance since ‘16.
Among the most memorable moments of the Orioles’ postseason-clinching celebration on Sept. 17 was Kjerstad — four days into his MLB career — getting dumped into a laundry cart by teammates and sprayed with champagne and kitchen condiments, a belated celebration of his first big league home run that came in a loss two nights earlier.
“The way I put it to a lot of people is: Everything I thought it was going to be, it was 100 times better,” Kjerstad said of his first taste of the Majors during a recent interview with MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo. “Everything you could have dreamed up in your head or thought you were going to experience, it was way better than I even thought it would be.”
Kjerstad didn’t get a ton of opportunities to showcase his potent bat, getting 33 scattered plate appearances over the final weeks of the regular season. The outfielder played only 21 2/3 innings on defense. And although he was included on Baltimore’s 26-man postseason roster, he never made an appearance in the AL Division Series as the team got swept by Texas, 3-0.
In 2024, Kjerstad should have a bigger role for the Orioles. But first, he’ll need to try to win an Opening Day roster spot during Spring Training.
Baltimore’s starting outfield will again be composed of Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander. With Aaron Hicks departing via free agency, though, there’s going to be playing time available in the outfield rotation.
The candidates for the role of fourth outfielder will include Kjerstad, Colton Cowser (the O’s No. 2 prospect), Kyle Stowers, Sam Hilliard and Ryan McKenna. It remains possible that the Orioles could sign a veteran free-agent outfielder, but it’s not a necessity because of their depth.
“I knew going into [last] year if I could perform the way I did in the [Arizona] Fall League and perform the way I’m capable of, or to the standard I hold myself to,” Kjerstad said, “I should have a really good shot of making the big league team to help them out.”
The same will be true heading into 2024, especially because Kjerstad has raked everywhere he’s been since the aforementioned ‘22 AFL campaign.
Look at the offensive numbers Kjerstad has put up dating back to October 2022:
Arizona Fall League (22 games): .357/.385/.622 with nine doubles, five homers and 17 RBIs
Spring Training (23 games): .381/.409/.810 with four doubles, four homers and nine RBIs
Double-A Bowie (46 games): .310/.384/.576 with 10 doubles, 11 homers and 23 RBIs
Triple-A Norfolk (76 games): .298/.371/.498 with 19 doubles, 10 homers and 32 RBIs
Major Leagues (13 games): .233/.281/.467 with one double, two homers and three RBIs
Because of his prowess with the bat, Kjerstad should be factored into Baltimore’s rotation at designated hitter. But the club remains confident he can be involved with his glove, too. General manager Mike Elias doesn’t foresee a full-time move to first base (where Kjerstad worked sporadically in 2023), but rather more reps in the outfield.
“He’s a good defender in right field in the dimensions in Camden Yards,” Elias said at the Winter Meetings in December. “He’s not a center fielder, but with the stick he brings, it profiles well in the corner outfield, and I think right field is a good spot for him. He can throw well, too.”
Whether Kjerstad’s next big league game is March 28 (Opening Day vs. the Angels at Camden Yards) or later in the year, he’s eager for more big league baseball. His brief time in Baltimore late last season likely only whetted his appetite.
“Really exciting, really fun to be a part of it. And luckily, a really great clubhouse to come into,” Kjerstad said. “Everybody brings you in, they just want you to help the team in any way you can and just give it your all.”