FAYETTEVILLE — It did not take Heston Kjerstad long to agree to terms on his first professional baseball contract.
The Baltimore Orioles announced Tuesday that they had signed Kjerstad, the former University of Arkansas All-American and No. 2 pick in the Major League Baseball Draft.
The native of Amarillo, Texas, signed his first pro contract 20 days after the Orioles took him right behind No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson of Arizona State, who went to the Detroit Tigers. Kjerstad is the second-highest Razorback draft pick, behind only Jeff King, the No. 1 pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1986 MLB Draft.
Kjerstad’s signing bonus was reported as $5.2 million by Jim Callis of MLB.com, which is under the slot value of just under $7.8 million for the No. 2 pick. There was widespread speculation during the first round of the MLB Draft that the Orioles and Kjerstad had reached a deal for under slot value that would give the team more money to spend on other picks.
Callis commented on Kjerstad in a Twitter post announcing the signing bonus Tuesday, writing “best lefty power hitter in @MLBDraft, long track record of production, big pop & solid arm fit RF profile very well.”
Kjerstad, 21, helped lead the Razorbacks to back-to-back College World Series appearances, the first consecutive showings in school history, in his only completed college seasons. He had a hefty batting average of .448 (30 for 67) with 5 doubles, 6 home runs, 19 runs and 20 RBI in 16 games before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season in college athletics in March.
Kjerstad will appear on a Zoom conference with media members today along with Orioles General Manager Mike Elias and Ken Guthrie, Baltimore’s Texas-based scout.
The SEC Freshman of the Year in 2018, Kjerstad was a second-team All-SEC choice that season, when he hit .332 with 14 home runs, scored 65 runs and had 58 RBI. The 14 home runs were an Arkansas single-season record for a freshman, and his 87 hits tied the school’s freshman record. Kjerstad was named a first-team Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball and the National College Baseball Writers Association.
As a sophomore in 2019, Kjerstad hit .327 with 17 home runs, 13 doubles, and 51 RBI. He joined Rodney Nye as the only Razorbacks with 50-plus RBIs in each of his first two seasons.
In a personal narrative filed on the UA athletic department’s website, Kjerstad wrote fondly of his time as a Razorback.
“I am going to miss all the Hog calls and playing in front of over 10,000 fans at Baum-Walker Stadium,” Kjerstad wrote. “Whether it was cold or sunny, a Tuesday afternoon or Friday night, in Fayetteville or in another state entirely, our fans showed up and took over the stadium.”
Kjerstad, a 36th-round draft pick in 2017 by the Seattle Mariners out of Amarillo Canyon Randall High, improved his draft position by 35 founds after two years with the Razorbacks.
In the narrative titled “This Was Special,” Kjerstad thanked coach Dave Van Horn, his teammates, the fans and his parents, Dave and Jody Kjerstad.
“Everything we did on that field was for each other and for all of the fans who love Arkansas baseball,” Kjerstad wrote. “I am going to miss hitting homers – and robbing homers – in Baum–Walker stadium. Whether it was a home run in batting practice, one that built a lead, or one that was a walk-off, every ball hit over that fence was special to me.”
Kjerstad is the eighth former Razorback drafted by the Orioles, including pitcher Blaine Knight, a third-round pick in 2018 after posting a school-record for victories by going 14-0 as Arkansas reached the College World Series finals against Oregon State.