Minor league baseball returns with Orioles prospects Heston Kjerstad, Michael Baumann away from affiliates

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Nathan Ruiz, Baltimore Sun
·3 min read
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Two players who are expected to play significant roles in the Orioles’ rebuild will begin the minor league season away from the organization’s affiliates.

Neither outfielder Heston Kjerstad, Baltimore’s No. 4 prospect according to Baseball America, nor right-hander Michael Baumann, its eighth-ranked prospect, were included on a roster of one of the Orioles’ four minor league teams. Instead, as the members of those affiliates start their seasons Tuesday, that pair will begin at extended spring training in Sarasota, Florida.

Since the Orioles selected him second overall in the 2020 draft, Kjerstad has had limited participation in team activities because he was diagnosed with myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart. He was a late arrival to the team’s alternate training site in Bowie and will join extended spring training in about a week, director of player development Matt Blood said Tuesday.

“He had been working out at the alternate site, getting back acclimated to everyday, physical activity,” Blood said. “He will be down in Florida in a week, and he’ll continue his progression there. It’ll be a slow buildup process for him. No need to rush him as he gets back to full health, full baseball condition and then eventually into games.”

Baumann skyrocketed up the organization prospect rankings thanks to a 2019 season in which he posted a 2.98 ERA between High-A and Double-A, throwing a no-hitter at the latter level. His 2020 work at the alternate site came to a premature end when he suffered a flexor mass strain in his pitching elbow.

The Orioles added Baumann to their 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from being available to other organizations in the Rule 5 draft, which meant he was invited to major league spring training. He didn’t make an official appearance there, though manager Brandon Hyde praised the work Baumann was doing on the backfields.

Baumann remains in Sarasota after participating in minor league spring training, as well, with hopes that he’ll join an affiliate by the end of the month. The other pitchers added to the roster this offseason — Isaac Mattson, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells — are on the Orioles’ or Triple-A Norfolk’s rosters.

“He had the little flare-up at the alternate site last year, and we’re just slow build, being cautious with him, managing some discomfort in his arm,” Blood said. “Hopefully, he’ll be back by the end of the month.”

Around the horn

" Participants in extended spring training have been vaccinated for COVID-19, Blood said, and the organization is working to get those who are with affiliated vaccinated, as well.

" Left-hander Keegan Akin, who recently suffered a cut finger on his pitching hand, will throw a side session Wednesday and, if that goes well, will start for Norfolk on Friday.

" The Orioles’ expanded international efforts are beginning to pay dividends. Blood said about 30 international players have joined extended spring training and many of them will play for the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League teams when that league’s play begins later this summer.