Even in an abbreviated Major League Baseball draft, Razorback Baseball shined during the sport’s first U.S. event since March. Two juniors, outfielder Heston Kjerstad and shortstop Casey Martin, and three high schoolers committed to Arkansas were selected in the five-round draft.
The Baltimore Orioles picked Kjerstad second overall Wednesday night, despite his absence from many experts’ top-five prospect lists. He is the highest Razorback draft pick since 2015 when the Boston Red Sox took Andrew Benintendi seventh, and the second-highest Razorback ever to be chosen.
“I wasn’t really trying to get my hopes up for any pick,” Kjerstad said. “I was just waiting for the phone to ring and see what happened and sure enough, after the Detroit Tigers turned in their pick, phone rang and it’s the Orioles and they wanted to pick me with their second pick. And, man, I couldn’t say yes quick enough to that.”
In parts of three seasons at Arkansas, Kjerstad amassed 37 home runs and 129 runs batted in across nearly 600 at bats. He hit a steady .330 in his first two seasons, earning Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2018 and two All-SEC Second Team nods. A unanimous preseason All-American this season, Kjerstad recorded a hit in each of the Hogs’ 16 games, piling up 30 in just 67 at bats and slashing .448/.513/.791.
MLB Pipeline ranked Martin among its top 20 draft prospects prior to the 2020 season, but his stock slipped after a slow start this year. Martin was among the best available when the second round began Thursday, but he would not hear his name called until the middle of round three. The Philadelphia Phillies picked Martin 87th overall, making him the 16th Razorback in the last 11 years to be selected in the first three rounds.
Martin’s best season as a Hog was his freshman campaign in 2018. He hit .345, cracked 13 homers and drove in 49 runs. Despite a sizable drop in batting average, he slugged 15 homers, drove in 57 and tallied 155 total bases in 2019. Like Kjerstad, he was named to the All-SEC Second Team in both seasons.
In addition to Martin, the Razorbacks had three high school signees drafted Thursday night. Two-way player Masyn Winn of Kingwood, Texas, and right-handed pitcher Tink Hence of Pine Bluff were both chosen by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second round. The Los Angeles Angels drafted outfielder David Calabrese, a native of Ontario, Canada, in the third round, five picks before Martin.
Winn announced his intent to sign with St. Louis in a tweet Friday.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, MLB shortened its draft from 40 rounds to just five. This kept junior catcher Casey Opitz, regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in Division I, from being chosen.
Within minutes of the draft’s conclusion, Opitz announced on Twitter that he would return to Arkansas for another season.
“Incredibly thankful for all the teams that made offers today,” Opitz tweeted. “Sadly, I didn’t feel that it was the right fit this year...Blessed that this journey has brought me back to Fayetteville! Day 1 of 2021 starts tomorrow!”