Heston Kjerstad drew professional interest as a senior at Randall High School in Amarillo, Texas in 2017. But Kjerstad didn’t believe he was ready to embark on a pro career and felt attending the University of Arkansas was best for his development.
The Seattle Mariners selected Kjerstad in the 36th round of the 2017 MLB draft. But he honored his commitment to Arkansas and the decision has paid off for him over the last three years.
Kjerstad has thrived at Arkansas and has developed into one of the top hitters and overall prospects in June’s draft class. The left-handed hitting right fielder likely will be a top-15 pick in this year’s draft.
“It’s definitely different because I’ve proven myself more than I did in high school,” Kjerstad said. “I wasn’t in high demand out of high school or anything like that. But now I kind of am because I showed what I was capable of. It’s a lot different, and it’s weird with the season ending early because at this point we still would’ve been playing.”
Kjerstad played immediately as a freshman in 2018. He experienced instant success, hitting .332 with 16 doubles, 14 home runs and 58 RBIs in 313 plate appearances. He posted similar results as a sophomore, recording a .327 batting average with 13 doubles, 17 home runs and 51 RBIs in 300 plate appearances.
In an abbreviated spring season, Kjerstad was on pace to have his best season yet. In 16 games, he totaled five doubles, six home runs and 20 RBIs in 78 plate appearances.
Kjerstad credits the consistent success to his refinement as a hitter.
“I think I have developed a lot, especially being able to come in and play right away as a freshman was huge for me to get that many at-bats,” Kjerstad said. “I feel like over time I have developed a better approach at the plate, refined my hitting, and just all around whether that’s strength and athleticism and my defense has improved.”
Kjerstad is a 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-hander hitter who projects as a middle-of-the-order bat in pro ball. He profiles as a right fielder at the next level, possessing solid arm strength.
He has above-average power to all parts of the field due to his strength and bat speed, making him one of the best power hitters in this year’s draft class.
“I would say my hitting and my ability to hit for power to all parts of the field are my biggest strengths,” Kjerstad said. “That’s a pretty rare characteristic to have. There are guys who hit to power to the pull side but not too many can go left field, center and right field. That’s pretty rare.”
Throughout his collegiate career, Kjerstad has featured an aggressive approach that tends to lead to strikeouts. He struck out 129 times compared to 54 walks drawn in 691 plate appearances throughout his collegiate career at Arkansas.
Over the last year, Kjerstad has focused on improving his approach at the plate. Regardless of his hitting mechanics, which consists of a swing with a big hand circle load, he believes a change in mentality can help him improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“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.”
Arkansas has advanced to the College World Series in each of Kjerstad’s three collegiate seasons. The Razorbacks were one out away from winning the College World Series in 2018 but allowed Oregon State to come back to win Game 2 and prevail in the decisive third game. They posted a 105-46 record in the last three years.
Kjerstad has played a significant role in Arkansas’ success the last three years. He also proved he could perform against elite competition and is thankful for the development he’s made in his time at Arkansas.
“I knew if I came to the SEC and played the way I knew how then that would be against the best competition in the country,” Kjerstad said. “I don’t know who wouldn’t want to come to play at Baum-Walker Stadium. It’s been unreal. It’s been one of the more fun things I’ve been a part of for baseball with having fans like that.”
Read more stories on top 2020 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.