Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad was a bit off the radar for the #4 pick with MLB Pipeline ranking him as the #10 draft prospect and Baseball America ranking him #13. But Baseball America, Keith Law, and MLB Pipeline all mention buzz between the Royals and Kjerstad in their latest mock drafts as a possibility.
Kjerstad went to Randall High School in Amarillo, Texas, where he was a 36th-round pick by the Mariners in 2017. He opted to go to Arkansas, and was teammates with Royals farmhand Eric Cole. He set a school freshman record by smashing 14 home runs in 2018 and was named SEC Freshman of the Year. He followed that up by hitting .331/.408/.567 with 15 home runs, helping the Razorbacks reach their second consecutive College World Series. Last summer he was the leading hitter for the USA Collegiate National team, and he hit .448 with six home runs in 16 games in the truncated season this year.
Standing at 6’3’’, 205 pounds, Kjerstad is considered the second-best college power hitter behind Torkelson. He brings an unorthodox left-handed swing with a big leg kick that generates a tremendous amount of power to all fields. Baseball America writes he has 70-grade raw power and is a potential middle-of-the-order bat. Kjerstad has a lot of swing-and-miss to his game, with MLB Pipeline writing:
He has a complicated swing that features a big hand circle in his load, so he has to be precise with his timing to make it work — but he has done so in college and was the top performer in the U.S. collegiate team’s lineup last summer. He’s an aggressive hitter who always will accumulate strikeouts as a tradeoff for his pop.
Kjerstad will likely play a corner outfield position at the pro level, with an adequate, but not exceptional glove. He has a strong arm, which could make right field the best fit for him. He is an average to below-average runner, and not a threat on the basepaths.
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn praises Kjerstad as a hard worker with elite power, although he did note that Kjerstad struggled with pitch recognition a bit in his sophomore season.
“That’s just development,” Van Horn said. “He had a couple of at-bats that really frustrated me, and I let him know it. I don’t like seeing guys waste at-bats.
“He’s a thinker and figures things out. This year, I saw him laying off that 2-2 slider to get a better pitch. In our fall scrimmages, we had a lot of guys throwing 92-93 mph, and he was just hammering ‘em.”
Kjerstad did strikeout 19 percent of the time in college, compared to just a 7.8 percent walk rate. He admits it is something to work on to fill out his game.
“I’m still really focused on my plate disciple because I feel like that’s the biggest part of the game,” Kjerstad said. “I feel if I show up to the park and have good plate discipline, that it’ll just help me have better at-bats.”
The Royals have a connection to the Arkansas program, with Dayton Moore’s son Robert a freshman starter at second base this year. Kjerstad is likely not the fourth-best player in this draft, but if the Royals like his bat and think they can get him to sign well under slot, that could give them flexibility with their #32 overall pick to grab someone sliding due to bonus demands and give them two solid picks on Day One. Kjerstad would certainly be a risk with his swing and strikeout numbers, but it is hard to find his kind of accomplished power against top amateur pitching.