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Orioles announce 2022 Arizona Fall League prospects, including Heston Kjerstad

The 2020 #2 overall pick is one of seven Orioles minor leaguers heading to Arizona in a couple of weeks.

Heston Kjerstad, smiling after being drafted by the Orioles in 2020
Hopefully we eventually get a newer, better Heston Kjerstad picture than this one from the day he was drafted.
Photo by MLB Photos via Getty Images

With the lower minor league levels having wrapped up their regular seasons and the high minors not far behind them, the next place to think about following prospects is the Arizona Fall League.

On Friday afternoon, the rosters for this year’s edition of the league were announced. Seven Orioles are headed to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions: Outfielders Heston Kjerstad and Reed Trimble, infielder César Prieto, and pitchers Noah Denoyer, Nolan Hoffman, Easton Lucas, and Nick Richmond.

Kjerstad, as the former #2 overall pick, is the obvious headliner out of this group. It’s not surprising to see him included here, because the AFL is often used by teams to get some extra reps for players who have missed time this season due to injury.

Kjerstad had the double whammy of missing last season due to myocarditis and missing the beginning of this season due to the hamstring strain he suffered in spring training. He dominated Delmarva, where he was over two years older than the average player. Kjerstad’s overall Aberdeen numbers weren’t great, but he’d started to come on strong in September, OPSing .829 in ten games. He could surely use the time to shake off some of the two years of rust.

Fellow outfielder Trimble, the O’s pick in the competitive balance round B last year, did not make it to join Delmarva until late July due to offseason surgery. Trimble is coming off a .747 OPS in 31 Low-A games. Prieto is also in the “get extra reps” group since he had a bit of a layoff from baseball as a result of his having to defect from Cuba and then sign with an American team. Prieto, 23, was ahead of the High-A competition but struggled at the Double-A level.

Pitchers sent to the AFL by the Orioles recently have tended to be relievers who they are evaluating to see if they want to place these guys on the 40-man roster. Last year’s AFL contingent included Logan Gillaspie and Nick Vespi. Gillaspie was added in the offseason while Vespi was not, but since the Rule 5 draft was canceled thanks to the lockout, we’ll never know if another organization would have grabbed them. Both did find their way to the Orioles in 2022.

The four pitchers assigned to the AFL by the Orioles this year are all about to become Rule 5 draft-eligible this offseason. Denoyer, 24, threw 71.2 innings across 21 games, mostly for Aberdeen and Bowie this season. With a combined 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings and only 2.1 walks per nine, it’s worth giving him the AFL challenge.

Hoffman, 25, played his first year in the Orioles organization this year, having been with Seattle previously. He had a 4.43 ERA in 17 games out of Bowie’s bullpen, but interesting rate stats, with a 4.4 K/BB ratio and only one home run allowed out of 97 batters faced.

Lucas, a lefty who is also 25, was acquired by the Orioles from the Marlins for Jonathan Villar prior to the 2020 season. Listed at 6’4”, the former Pepperdine product has been exclusively pitching in relief since joining the O’s organization. Pitching for Bowie this year, he struck out 64 batters in 54.2 innings, but this came along with an elevated walk rate.

Richmond, 24, joined the O’s this season after pitching with the Tigers since 2019. I’ll be honest, I follow the O’s minors a lot closer than most people and I’d never particularly lodged either Hoffman or Richmond in my awareness before today. Maybe they’ll pitch their way into our awareness, or maybe they’ll fade into the mists beyond memory like one of last year’s AFL pitchers, Connor Loeprich. Richmond threw 25 innings between Delmarva and Aberdeen, combining for a 3.60 ERA. He was old for both of these levels.

The Orioles prospects will be playing alongside of prospects from the Red Sox, Angels, Giants, and Atlanta organizations. The AFL season is set to run from October 3 to November 10, with a short playoff on November 11 and 12.