FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas Razorbacks junior outfielder Heston Kjerstad appears on track nearly to be $5 million richer after tonight’s first round of the Major League baseball draft.
The first round of tonight’s 2-day, 5-round draft is televised at 6 p.m (CDT) on the Major League Baseball Network which also televises Thursday’s round 2 through 5.
Mock drafts by both the Major League Baseball Network and CBSSports.com both speculate Kjerstad drafted by the Colorado Rockies as the ninth selected player selected in the first round.
The No. 9 pick in the first round carries a slot value of $4,949, 100.
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn calls Kjerstad, “probably the best left-handed hitter in the country.”
Kjerstad of Amarillo, Texas and junior shortstop Casey Martin of Lonoke, expected to be a late first round to third round selection, helped Van Horn’s Razorbacks, 2018 SEC West co-champions with Ole Miss and 2019 SEC West co-champions with Mississippi State, to successive College World Series appearances including national runner-up in 2018. Kjerstad as a true freshman left fielder in 2018 hit .332 with 16 doubles, 14 home runs and 58 RBI and in 2019 as a right fielder hit .327 hit 13 doubles, a triple and 17 home runs with 51 RBI.
For the 2020 Razorbacks, 11-5 before the season was cancelled because of the coronavirus covid-19 pandemic, Kjerstad, playing right field and occasionally first base, logged at least one hit every game. He batted a torrid .448 with 30 hits in 67 at bats including five doubles, six home runs and 20 RBI backing Van Horn’s superlative adjectives.”
“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, I don’t know how there could be a better left-handed hitter in the country right now,” Van Horn said. “I would think his draft stock would be pretty high. I know it is from talking to people. I think he showed early how much better he was. I think he’s gonna be a really good pro player. I think if he stays healthy and ff he stays hooked up which I feel like he will he will play in the big leagues for a long time.”
With an unflappable personality, Kjerstad has kept the draft in perspective while working out.
“When it happens, it’ll be an exciting time for all of us,” Kjerstad said on March 31. “But until then, we’ve just got to keep doing out thing and stay ready.”
Martin, the most athletic in speed and arm of Van Horn’s position players, as a trued freshman third baseman in 2018 hit .345 with 14 doubles, 13 home runs and 49 RBI.
Moved to shortstop, his high school position, in 2019, Martin struck out more often and hit less for average, .286 struggling some against breaking balls and off speed pitches, but upped his power with 21 doubles, four triples, 15 home runs and 57 RBI.
He was hitting .271 with five doubles, two home runs and 10 RBI when the 2020 season ended prematurely. Though on power hitting teams that didn’t play that much small ball, Martin still stole 24 bases in 27 attempts for his UA career.
In what likely was his last Razorback game, Martin went 3 for 5 with a home run, double and single and four RBI before all college sports for 2020 ceased because of the pandemic.
“Casey Martin, who has really battled through some things as far as on the field and I think he was really starting to come out of it,” Van Horn said. “I think we were getting ready to see the best of him and I really liked the way he handled all the pressure and his demeanor even when he wasn’t having a good day compared to maybe last year when it didn’t go good for him, just the growth mentally for him and the development to be able to handle the tough days. I think he was getting ready to take off.”
Van Horn also envisions switch-hitting defensive whiz catcher Casey Opitz going in the 2-day 5-round draft.
““I feel like Casey is probably one of the top three catchers in the country right now,” Van Horn said. “I think he should have a good draft. If he doesn’t get the money that he really wants, I mean obviously we would love to have him back.”
Because in deference to the 2020 spring sports seasons getting curtailed, the NCAA restored all 2020 eligibility into 2021 which would make Kjerstad, Martin and Opitz all juniors again should they return in 2021.
“I think it will give them a good option to go back to school if they feel like they are not going to get the type of bonus they need,” Van Horn said. “So I think it’s definitely an advantage for them and at least frees them up to make a decision instead of feeling like they don’t have any bargaining power and pretty much take what they can get.”
However Van Horn anticipates “I feel like they will have the bargaining power and will be paid the way they’re supposed to.”
If the draft went its customary 40 rounds instead of five, several other draft eligible junior Razorbacks would be drafted. Some conceivably could be drafted or more likely offered free agent contracts to mull before deciding whether to sign or return to school