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Mariners 2020 Draft Preview: OF Heston Kjerstad

A switch hitting, slight-framed power hitter out of Arkansas

NCAA BASEBALL: JUN 10 Div 1 Championship Super Regionals - Ole Miss at Arkansas Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A switch-hitting outfielder hailing from Amarillo, Texas, Heston Kjerstad figures to be one of the more proven plus power hitters in 2020’s relatively deep draft class. After being drafted in the 36th round out of Randall High in Amarillo by our very own Seattle Mariners, the Texas native has helped to boost his draft stock with two impressive years at Arkansas supplemented with stints at the prestigious Cape Cod and a dominant stretch with Team USA this past summer. Now, three years after the Mariners first gave him the nod 36 rounds in, there’s good reason to think the M’s would be thrilled if he slid to their second selection in a stacked 2020 draft.

Standing 6’3 but weighing just 200 pounds, Kjerstad’s small frame makes his ability to demolish baseballs even more impressive. While there isn’t much physical projection remaining, it is likely that under a professional regimen Kjerstad would add some muscle, providing even more pop to an already lively bat. Due to his slight frame, Kjerstad employs a relatively complex swing motion to help him put the ball over the fence (his swing can be shown at a higher detail in slow motion at 0:50 in the video above). Along with a complex hand circle, he uses a large leg kick to push weight onto his back half, unloading it as he makes contact with the ball. His hands sit relatively low throughout the course of his swing as well to match his lofty swing plane and help launch the ball further. He also shows a fast bat speed to help make up for his lack of muscle so he can demolish baseballs like this:

In his two seasons at Arkansas, Kjerstad has turned in impressive numbers with the bat, hitting .331 with an OPS of .975 in 605 plate appearances while swatting an impressive 30 balls over the fence and driving 108 runs in. Like most who hit for power, Kjerstad struck out an unideal amount, whiffing at a rate of 19.5%. Due to his swing approach and mostly his large leg kick, he might have a hard time backing off of pitches once he begins his swing due to the many moving pieces. This issue isn’t terribly problematic for him at the college level; however, as he moves through the minors and faces pitchers that have better breaking balls. this should figure to be more of an issue. As Kjerstad moves through the ranks, he also figures to struggle with more sophisticated players with varying releases as his swing is so timing dependent.

He played as an average outfielder in his time in college and figures to slot in at right field during his time in the pros. His power bat and plus arm help him here, as his below average to average speed would certainly keep him from playing center. His speed figures to be one of the more glaring weaknesses of his game as it is already subpar and will likely worsen with age.

2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Championship - Game 3
Air Heston
Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Although the last time the Mariners selected Kjerstad as a late-round courtesy pick, that certainly won’t be the case here, as most outlets have him projected in the low twenties range after his first two seasons. Should he turn in a season akin to his two prior college seasons, his chances of getting a call on draft night from Jerry Dipoto are slim. Given his defensive limitations, it’s unlikely that Kjerstad cracks the top ten in a deep draft, no matter how impressive a season he turns in. Thus the most likely way that Kjerstad would end up with the M’s would be via a slide in the draft. This can obviously be done by poor play that would highlight newly found weaknesses in his game or increase worry in already prevalent issues. The most likely way that this would occur to Heston would be issues with his most glaring problem or his greatest tool; his whiff rate or his power. Should either of these fall dramatically it wouldn’t be surprising to see teams in the back half of the first round look for different players.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Arkansas vs Texas Tech Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

After an impressive summer with Team USA, Kjerstad’s stock is trending up, and it’s likely he will hear his name called at the back half of the first round. However, with a loaded draft class that’s especially heavy on outfielders and the draft still almost half a year away, anything can happen. If Kjerstad is available in the second round, the Mariners could steal one of the best sluggers in the class, treating fans to his light-tower power for years to come.