The Texas Rangers currently have five picks in the 2020 MLB Draft, and while it is possible they could trade for a competitive balance pick from another team, it appears most likely they will have just their regular selections in each round. Their first pick is at #14 overall, and then they pick at #50, #87, #117, and #147.
In the run up to the draft, we will be highlight some players who are potential Ranger draft picks. Last year no one aside from Josh Jung that we wrote about was actually picked by the Rangers, as we mostly looked at prep players for their later picks, and they went college-heavy early in the draft for the first time in years. This year, the uncertainty over whether they will emphasize college players again or go back to prep players would make it hard to narrow down the list of potential prospects even in a normal year — the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic having shut down amateur play creates even more uncertainty about potential picks.
On the plus side, the lack of games and actual new scouting going on means that there’s going to be a lot less updated information, so a write-up I do now will likely still be more or less valid a month from now.
In any case, in the coming days, we will be doing write-ups of potential Texas Ranger draft picks. Today we take a look at University of Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad.
Heston Kjerstad is a 6’3”, 200 lb. junior outfielder at the University of Arkansas. Kjerstad is a corner outfielder who has a track record of hitting everywhere he has been. He’s a bat-first guy, with impressive raw power and a hit tool that is less impressive but is still good enough. He’s a decent enough athlete that he should be able to stay in the outfield, rather than having to move to first base or DH, but his defense is not anything special.
Kjerstad went to high school in Amarillo, Texas, and was drafted in 2017 by the Seattle Mariners in the 36th round, but didn’t sign. He wasn’t in the Baseball America top 500 draft prospects in 2017, but made a splash immediately at Arkansas, setting the school freshman record for home runs in a season in 2018.
Kjerstad’s mechanics at the plate are unusual, and there’s concerns about a swing that is described as “complicated.” Kjerstad has had contact issues as an amateur, though not so significant that they’ve kept him from being productive. Still, the contact issues and the unusual swing lead to concerns about how much he will hit as a pro — there appears to be no dispute that the raw power is legit, but there do appear to be questions about whether the swing and hit tool will play in the upper levels.
Baseball America has Kjerstad at #15 on their pre-draft top 500 currently. MLB Pipeline slots Kjerstad at #10 in their pre-draft rankings,. Fangraphs has Kjerstad at #7 on their board, and suggest that he could have been poised for a J.J. Bleday-type breakout in 2020. At ESPN, Kiley McDaniel has Kjerstad at #15 on his board, while Keith Law has him at 13 on his board.
Keith Law has Kjerstad going at #9 to the Colorado Rockies in in his mock draft. Jonathan Mayo’s mock draft has Kjerstad going to the Chicago White Sox at #11. Kiley McDaniel’s mock draft has Kjerstad going to the Pittsburgh Pirates at #7 — a team Law mentions has been connected to Kjerstad. Kjerstad goes to the Rockies at #9 in the Baseball America mock draft, while at MLB Pipeline Jim Callis mocks Kjerstad going at #7 to the Pirates.
A year ago, Kjerstad is someone I wouldn’t have even bothered writing up — he’s a bat-only college corner outfielder, and the Rangers haven’t used a first round pick on a college corner outfielder since taking John Mayberry Jr. out of Stanford in the Rangers’ last draft before Jon Daniels became general manager.
And Kjerstad seems likely to be off the board before the Rangers pick — he’s a college player in a draft that seems like to be heavy on college picks, and in a draft where teams haven’t been able to see players player for most of this spring, he has an extensive track record for teams to reference. He’s a relatively safe and known pick at a time of uncertainty.
That being said, if the 2019 draft is the new normal for the Rangers, Kjerstad would seem to be someone they might end up jumping on at #14. He has a huge carrying tool in his power, and the hit tool has been good enough thusfar for him to have success. The extent to which they feel like the swing may need to be tweaked, and the confidence they have in the hitting coaches in the organization to tighten the swing up and work with Kjerstad on his plate discipline, would seem to dictate where they have him on their board
Its reasonable to read this and have concerns about the Rangers using a premium pick on a college hitter who is a bat-only guy and who has questions about his swing. Of course, just last year, we got a first hand look at a corner outfielder with an unorthodox swing who went undrafted out of a Texas high school, then went relatively high in the draft as a college junior, though not as high as he would have gone had there not been questions about his swing.
Hunter Pence worked out pretty well. If Kjerstad can have half the career Pence does, he would be a great pick at #14.