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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 2020 amateur draft

Posted on 15 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With the 2020 amateur draft completed and baseball trying to navigate the resumption of the 2020 season, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Some had issues with the Andrew Cashner trade or the Jonathan Villar salary dump, but selecting Heston Kjerstad second overall is the first questionable decision of major consequence in the Mike Elias era. If nothing else, Elias and his staff showed their conviction going against outsider consensus.

2. It’s easy — and sometimes valid — to equate an under-slot pick with being cheap, but the better comparison is trading back in the NFL draft to be able to add more later. Of course, that doesn’t mean Coby Mayo or Carter Baumler will succeed as over-slot picks out of high school.

3. Second-guessing is part of the sports conversation, but I struggle enough with criticism of picks in the NFL and NBA drafts without pretending to have a strong opinion on talents coming from a college sport that’s showcased nationally for all of a couple weeks every year. Time will tell.

4. Strikeout concerns and his left-handed power profile are enough to make Kjerstad remind you a bit of Chris Davis, but the Orioles loved his white-hot start to 2020. The popular Driveline Baseball also likes his makeup, a strong endorsement in the player development world. The shortened season definitely complicated evaluations.

5. The second overall pick was a special moment for scout Ken Guthrie, one of the holdovers from the Dan Duquette era. Guthrie has known Kjerstad since he was a kid and tracked his progress for years, which would make this a memorable story if the University of Arkansas product pans out.

6. How many Orioles fans had thoughts of Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin being a thorn in their side when Toronto selected the widely anticipated Baltimore choice at fifth overall? You can almost hear that annoying horn at Rogers Centre after a walk-off hit for the Blue Jays. But again, no one knows.

7. After passing on all pitching until the fifth and final round with Baumler, the organization showed an early preference for college position players as well as its great faith in director of pitching Chris Holt for a second straight year. The Orioles believe in their pitching development process.

8. I’ll have more on the 2020 season when we see a definitive resolution, but is it any surprise owners in a sport that’s widely embraced “tanking” in recent years seem content to do something similar with an entire season? Their exclusive focus on the short-term bottom line is shameful.

9. Empathizing with owners over the “economic feasibility” of prorated pay for players — who are taking on health risk during a pandemic — sure is tough in the wake of a reported new television deal with Turner Sports worth $1 billion. If they’re not opening their books, spare us the tears.

10. From an on-field baseball standpoint in the big picture, how much more valuable would a normal minor league season be to the Orioles than an abbreviated major league one? Beyond Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, and a couple others, further development on the farm would be the easy choice.

11. Ole Miss shortstop Anthony Servideo being the grandson of former Oriole and 1965 AL Rookie of the Year Curt Blefary is a good story. Traded for Mike Cuellar in 1968, Blefary died in 2001 and had his ashes spread over what remained of Memorial Stadium at the time.

12. On a lighter note subdued by Monday’s news, a 50-game season sure could lead to some crazy happenings. The 2005 Orioles started 31-19 and were in first place before finishing 74-88. The woeful 2010 club that lost 96 games finished 34-23 under new manager Buck Showalter. One can dream, right?

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Orioles draft Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad with second overall pick

Posted on 10 June 2020 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Baltimore Orioles tonight announced that they have selected outfielder HESTON KJERSTAD (KERR-stad) from the University of Arkansas with the second overall selection of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Kjerstad, 21, hit .448/.513/.791 (30-for-67) with five doubles, six home runs, 19 runs, and 20 RBI in 16 games during his junior season, which was shortened due to COVID-19. He led the Razorbacks in batting average, hits, home runs, RBI, total bases (53), on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He started all 16 games in right field and recorded at least one hit in each game. He was named to the Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List, as well as being named a First-Team Preseason All-American by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, D1Baseball.com, and Perfect Game. He was ranked as the No. 10 overall draft prospect by MLB.com and the No. 13 prospect by Baseball America.

As a sophomore in 2019, Kjerstad helped lead Arkansas to their second-straight College World Series. Kjerstad homered in each of the Fayetteville Regional, Fayetteville Super Regional, and College World Series. For the season, Kjerstad hit .327/.400/.575 (87-for-266) with 13 doubles, one triple, 17 home runs, 53 runs, and 51 RBI in 65 games. His 17 home runs were a career-best and were tied for the second-most in the SEC. He became the first Razorback since Rodney Nye in 1998-99 to have 50-or-more RBI in his first two seasons. He was named to the All-SEC Second-Team.

As a true freshman in 2018, Kjerstad was named the SEC Freshman of the Year, along with being named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and the All-SEC Second Team, after helping lead Arkansas to the College World Series. He made 69 starts for the Razorbacks, all of which came in the outfield, and hit .332/.419/.553 (87-for-262) with 16 doubles, 14 home runs, 65 runs, and 58 RBI. Kjerstad’s 14 home runs set an Arkansas freshman single-season record, and his 87 hits tied the freshman single-season record. He was named a NCBWA First-Team Freshman All-American as well as a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American.

A native of Amarillo, Texas, Kjerstad attended Canyon Randall (Texas) High School. He was named the District 3-5A Newcomer of the Year in 2015 and the District 3-5A MVP and First Team 5A All-State Player in 2016. He was a member of the Amarillo Glove-News 2016 Baseball Super Team and attended the 2016 Perfect Game National Showcase. Kjerstad was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 36th round of the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft following his senior year of high school but did not sign in order to attend the University of Arkansas.

The 2020 First-Year Player Draft marks the first time in Orioles history that the club has had the second overall selection in the MLB Draft. The Orioles have had the number one overall selection twice: in 2019, when they selected C ADLEY RUTSCHMAN out of Oregon State University, and in 1989, when they selected RHP BEN McDONALD out of Louisiana State University. It is the first time they have had picks in the top five in consecutive years since 2011-12.

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Elias says Orioles still mulling over options for second overall pick

Posted on 08 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Even though the on-field aspect of a lengthy rebuilding effort was halted in March, general manager Mike Elias and the Orioles have remained busy preparing for this week’s unprecedented amateur draft.

With the 2020 draft shortened to just five rounds and the Orioles having only six picks at their disposal in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Elias said Monday that no decision has been made on the second overall pick with the organization still “actively discussing” five candidates. Detroit is almost universally expected to draft Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson with the first overall pick while many mock drafts have projected the Orioles to select Vanderbilt infielder Austin Martin at No. 2.

Other players regarded as potential top five picks include Texas A&M left-handed pitcher Asa Lacy, Florida high school outfielder Zac Veen, Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock, and New Mexico State infielder Nick Gonzales.

Evaluators love Martin’s exit velocity and contact rates and view him as a polished hitting prospect and a good athlete, but there are some questions about where he’ll end up defensively. After not taking a pitcher until the eighth round in his first draft as Orioles general manager last year, Elias downplayed any thoughts of prioritizing positional need early.

“We have not made up our mind about our top two players on the board in preparation for the second pick,” said Elias, who continues to collect medical information and to gain a better sense of prospects’ financial demands. “We have choices that we like, and we’re trying to pick between players that we like. That’s a good thing and the most important thing, but we have not made a decision as to how we’re going to finalize that grouping, and we may not until the day of the draft.”

Baltimore also holds the first competitive balance pick at the conclusion of the first round, which has prompted speculation about Elias drafting under slot with the second pick and using those bonus savings for that 30th overall selection as well as the club’s second-round choice at 39th. It’s all about “trying to make the best investment that we can” in the second-year general manager’s words.

The Orioles selected catcher Adley Rutschman first overall last season, only the second time the club has owned the top selection in the amateur draft. Their draft pool is $13,894,300, the most among all teams this year.

“I think the short draft will constrain your ability to spread bonus pool money around — or at least the opportunity to do so,” Elias said. “If a team does sign their first pick for less than slot, they’re going to be under more pressure to apply that savings in the first few rounds. Whereas in a normal draft, you could sign one player with all of that money with an early pick, [and] you can kind of spread it out through the rest of the draft.

“We feel it’s important if you’re taking a guy with a high pick that he’s your favorite guy.”

Despite the remainder of the college baseball season being canceled in March and many high school seasons never taking place this spring, Elias has no major complaints about a unique pre-draft process that’s still gone “very smoothly” for the Orioles. Of course, scouts have been forced to rely heavily on past video with no games to attend, but technology has eased concerns that would have been a much bigger reality even 10 years ago.

The challenges stemming from the pandemic are expected to slant this draft more toward college talent, especially after the opening round. The absence of in-person work has been challenging, but it’s prompted the organization to innovate.

“Our analytics team did a great job of building a virtual draft board very quickly, and it’s really nice,” Elias said. “We can drag magnets around. Everyone can see it on their computer screen. It’s really easy to use. You can click through and have all of the player info and video that you want right there. Honestly, I think it’s something that we’re going to keep using. We may be done with physical magnets even when we get back to normal.

“It has been a little more tiring for all of us to conduct these meetings over the phone and over video. Usually, a draft room is a really energetic, fun experience, and we’re not getting that this year, which is a shame. But it hasn’t stopped us from being productive at all.”

Pessimism persists about the resumption of the 2020 season with MLB’s latest financial proposal not being received favorably by players still expecting the full prorated pay agreed upon by the sides in late March, but Elias remained positive when asked about his current concern level. What happens with the players drafted later this week and the many minor-league prospects missing out on critical seasoning remains to be seen.

“I think we’re going to play,” said Elias about the 2020 major league season. “I don’t know what the length and structure is going to be. That’s really hard to predict right now with the discussions that are ongoing. But I’m very confident we’re going to play.”

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