The long wait for Orioles top 2020 draft pick Heston Kjerstad to get into organized activities is finally about to be over. The team announced a roster for its fall instructional camp, running from today through November 20 at the team’s spring training complex in Sarasota, and among the 50 players set to appear in the camp is Kjerstad. This will mark his first significant group activity since being drafted last year, with his debut having been delayed this long due to Kjerstad developing myocarditis.
Along with Kjerstad, another 18 players from the current MLB Pipeline Top 30 Orioles prospect list will be in the camp, as well as 17 players from the 2021 draft class. Included among the top 30 prospects are the O’s two seven-figure international amateur signees from January, catcher Samuel Basallo and shortstop Maikol Hernandez.
Kjerstad is not the only prospect making an encouraging return to the diamond after having dealt with injuries. The camp roster also includes the O’s top lefty pitching prospect, DL Hall, who was limited to seven starts with Double-A Bowie this year after suffering a stress fracture in his elbow. If he’s healthy enough to get some work in now, that’s an encouraging sign.
2020 fifth rounder Carter Baumler, who’s yet to throw a professional pitch after needing Tommy John surgery last October, is also included on the camp roster. Other Mike Elias-era draft picks whose 2021 seasons were either cut short or never started on this roster are infielders Joey Ortiz and Anthony Servideo and outfielder Hudson Haskin. Hopefully all of these guys can start to make up for lost time with the camp instruction and carry that on into next season.
The players on the camp roster (alphabetical order by last name, top 30 prospects bold, 2021 draftees/signees italics):
Justin Armbruester, Carter Baumler, Félix Bautista, Kyle Brnovich, Ignacio Feliz, Keagan Gillies, DL Hall, Dylan Heid, Xavier Moore, Zach Peek, Jean Pinto, Drew Rom, Garrett Stallings, Adam Stauffer, Carlos Tavera, Brandon Young, Peter Van Loon
Four pitchers acquired across two different trades with the Angels are among this group: Brnovich and Peek (Dylan Bundy) and Pinto and Stallings (Jose Iglesias).
Samuel Basallo, Connor Pavolony, Creed Willems
TT Bowens, Collin Burns, Isaac De Leon, Anderson De Los Santos, Adam Hall, Gunnar Henderson, Maikol Hernandez, Coby Mayo, J.D. Mundy, Connor Norby, Joey Ortiz, Moisés Ramirez, Noelberth Romero, Anthony Servideo, Jacob Teter, Jordan Westburg
The number of bold names really stands out: This is a lot of hopeful future Orioles infielders! Henderson, Westburg, and Norby make up three of the top ten Pipeline O’s prospects on their own.
Stiven Acevedo, Billy Cook, Colton Cowser, Trendon Craig, Mishael Deson, Luis González, Hudson Haskin, Ryan Higgins, Heston Kjerstad, Elio Prado, John Rhodes, Reed Trimble, Donta’ Williams
The inclusion of Cowser and Kjerstad puts the most recent two Orioles first round picks on the camp roster.
A fair question you might have right now is: What the heck is the point of the fall instructional camp? It is one of those annual baseball rituals that didn’t matter very much when the Orioles were good, because the most exciting thing going on was at the MLB level. Even after Elias and company arrived, the team didn’t have a ton of prospects who were developmental projects, so it’s only this year where it hits a critical mass of interesting players.
One thing it is, is that it’s kind of a secret. The camp is closed to the public and also to media. MASN’s Roch Kubatko described the camp in a tweet:
No games. Heavy in skill development, strength and movement, education https://t.co/e6zkAFMXTL— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) October 18, 2021
There are no formal stats tracked even when there end up being organized intrasquad scrimmages or even games played against other teams instructional camp players, who are also hanging around at their respective teams spring training homes.
How players look in the instructional camp setting does tend to percolate around the rumor mill of MLB scouts. It’s not surprising to see players get a little hype built up around how they take to the instruction. This is one thing that will go into the building of the various 2022 preseason top prospect lists.
For players who might be more in the realm of a sleeper prospect, this is the place to quietly have a thing or two click into place that might take that prospect to the next level. For the recovering from injury players, it’s a nice opportunity to shake off some rust and maybe make up for some of the lost development time with more focused instruction that you maybe don’t have the opportunity to get day-to-day in the minor league season anyway.
In the meantime, the announcement of the camp roster is a reason for Orioles fans to look away from another O’s-less postseason and think about better days coming eventually. That’s not worth a ton, but it’s not worth nothing either.