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The Orioles think Heston Kjerstad is the draft’s best left-handed hitter. He does everything else right-handed.

On the night Mike Elias made University of Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad the surprise No. 2 overall selection in the 2020 MLB draft, the Orioles’ executive vice president/general manager called Kjerstad “the best left-handed hitter in the country this year.”

Making that standing all the more impressive: On a conference call Wednesday after the Orioles announced they had officially signed him, Kjerstad revealed that hitting is the only thing he doesn’t do right-handed.

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The Orioles don’t mind, with Elias reiterating Wednesday that the organization sees Kjerstad’s left-handed bat as a future fixture in the middle of the lineup.

“We feel that he is the headliner of what’s going to be a very impactful draft class overall,” Elias said. “Ultimately, it’s a player that we’re just very excited about on a number of levels, but particularly the fact that we feel that he’s got the potential to be a middle-of-the-order, left-handed bat. [It’s] something that’s hard to find. We were thrilled to select him and bring him into our organization.”

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When Orioles area scout Ken Guthrie first began evaluating Kjerstad at an Amarillo, Texas, high school, Kjerstad was actually a switch-hitter. Guthrie was already close with the Kjerstad family, having coached Heston’s older brother, Dex, on a Texas travel ball team when Heston was 10 or so years old.

Kjerstad said that he committed to batting left-handed as a senior at Canyon Randall High School, noting how that swing had become more advanced than his right-handed one while he formed a desire to “just make one side as good as it can be.” His swing was groomed during batting practice sessions with his dad, Dave, rather than formal lessons.

“It’s a natural developed swing,” Kjerstad said. “We would go up to the cage practically almost every day, and he would just throw me BP, and I would just hit and try to hit the ball as hard and as far as I can to all parts of the field. It just slowly developed, and that’s what worked for me.”

The results don’t disagree. In three years at Arkansas, Kjerstad hit .343/.421/.590 with 37 home runs, including a .448/.513/.791 line with six homers in a 16-game junior season shortened by the coronavirus.

Guthrie noted how much Kjerstad grew between high school and college, while Kjerstad credited Arkansas assistant Nate Thompson for his individualized approach to working with Razorback hitters. At Arkansas, Kjerstad said players had many of the same technologies available that the Orioles are working to introduce to their minor leaguers. With college programs generally not having their own analytics staffers while a professional organization does, Kjerstad was often responsible for studying and understanding the data himself, saying he feels comfortable around the information that systems such as Rapsodo and TrackMan produce.

Although his immediate future remains fairly unknown because of the cancellation of the minor league season amid the pandemic, Kjerstad enters the organization with a left-handed swing Elias and the Orioles believe can hit for average and power in the major leagues.

“I take all the credit for it because I was the one who mastered it,” Kjerstad said. “It’s kind of like playing the guitar. It’s my form of art, and you kind of have your own unique rhythm.”

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