FAYETTEVILLE – For his incredible 16 games in the coronavirus pandemic abbreviated college baseball season, Arkansas junior outfielder Heston Kjerstad of Amarillo, Texas Tuesday was named first-team All-American by the Collegiate Baseball newspaper.
For Coach Dave Van Horn’s 11-5 Razorbacks, Kjerstad logged at least one hit every game while hitting .448 with 30 hits in 67 at bats, including six home runs and five doubles while knocking home 20 RBI and scoring 19 runs.
Kjerstad hit four home runs during the season-opening series sweep of Eastern Illinois earning him Collegiate Baseball Player of the Week and homered against Texas and hit a game-ending 2-run home run to beat South Alabama in the last game Arkansas played.
The Razorbacks were about to travel to Mississippi State for their SEC opening series when the college baseball season was cancelled.
A 2020 unanimous Preseason All-American after as pacing Arkansas to consecutive College World Series batting .332 with 11 doubles, 14 home runs and 58 RBI for the 2018 national runner-up Razorbacks while named to the Freshman All-American team and in 2019 batting .331 with 11 doubles, a triple, 15 home runs and 46 RBI, Kjerstad in 2020 was recognized by D1 Baseball as the SECs best hitter.
All under retired Coach Norm DeBriyn, Arkansas’ baseball coach from 1969-2002, and Van Horn, Arkansas’ coach since 2003, Kjerstad became the Razorbacks 28th baseball American.
Major League baseball draft eligible as a junior and increasing his versatility by also playing some first base in 2020 after playing left field as a freshman and right field as a sophomore and mostly right again this abbreviated season, Kjerstad awaits the June 10 draft.
Because the coronavirus closures so limited college and high school baseball this spring, the 2020 draft has been reduced from its customary 40 rounds to five.
That won’t affect Kjerstad unanimously expected to be a first-round selection. Kjerstad will have some extra bargaining power if needed since the NCAA for 2021 restored 2020 baseball eligibility for all players. That would allow Kjerstad and fellow draft eligible juniors to stay draft eligible juniors in 2021.
Van Horn certainly expects Kjerstad receiving a pro offer too good to refuse.
“As a draft prospect I think he’s probably the best left-handed hitter in the country,” Van Horn said. “If you combo up being able to use the whole field and you throw in the power and power to all parts of the field, the development I’ve seen I don’t know how there could be a better left-handed hitter in the country right now. I would think his draft stock would be pretty high.”
Personally unflappable even when it was conjectured the draft could be postponed or not even occurs, Kjerstad back in March from his Amarillo home said he just keeps working out like he always would whether preparing for the draft or returning to the Razorbacks.
“When it happens, it’ll be an exciting time for all of us,” Kjerstad said. “But until then, we’ve just got to keep doing out thing and stay ready. I feel like I’m doing everything I can right now and still staying motivated with the times. It’s a weird time. Nobody’s ever had to go through something like this. It’s going to make a difference for a lot of guys on whether they took care of business. You just kept your nose down and kept improving.”
It’s also deemed a near cinch that Razorbacks junior Preseason All-American shortstop Casey Martin of Lonoke will be drafted and a strong possibility that junior switch-hitting defensive whiz catcher Casey Optiz will, too.
Van Horn apparently thinks Opitz will be turning pro. Recently he added graduate transfer catchers Robert Emery of the University of San Francisco and AJ Lewis of Eastern Kentucky with immediate 2021 eligibility.
Freshman catchers Dominic Tamez and Casey Tollett return as freshmen in 2021.
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3 Sports Action