Orioles’ Terrin Vavra hopeful to be first base option; Heston Kjerstad ‘for sure’ believes he can reach majors in 2023
Terrin Vavra believes his skill set makes him unique among members of the Orioles’ roster. He’s spent his offseason working to add to it.
Aware Baltimore is looking for a left-handed-hitting complement to Ryan Mountcastle at first base, Vavra focused this offseason on “being able to play everywhere,” he said at Saturday’s happy hour to close the day’s Birdland Caravan events. Throughout his rookie season, the 25-year-old did pregame drills at first base but has never appeared there in his professional career.
“It’s something that the more I take reps over there, the better it gets, the more comfortable I get,” Vavra said. “I don’t think until I really play a game over there, I’ll truly feel the most comfortable, but that’s what spring training’s for. I think I’ll get some opportunities to showcase that and showcase other talents and try and make my case.
“I want to be able to show that I can do that, and I want the coaching staff to be confident if they had to send me out there, Day 1 of spring training even.”
Vavra hit .258/.340/.337 in 40 major league games in 2022, making defensive appearances at second base and both corner outfield spots. Before being traded to Baltimore in 2020 as part of the Colorado Rockies’ package to acquire reliever Mychal Givens — who re-signed with the Orioles in December — Vavra exclusively played in the middle infield in the minors, but the Orioles deployed him in the outfield in 2021 to increase his versatility.
That versatility could be the key to him landing on the Orioles’ opening day roster, though his path to a spot was seemingly hampered when the team signed veteran Adam Frazier, who Vavra acknowledged has a similar skill set. Both players bat left-handed, are capable of playing second base and the corner outfield, and lack significant power but make up for it with an impressive eye and ability to make contact.
Vavra hit only one home run in his first major league stint, a game-winner in the Orioles’ final victory of the season, but Adley Rutschman was Baltimore’s only player with a better strikeout-to-walk ratio. He made clear he intends to be a part of a spring training competition that will also feature nonroster invitees Lewin Díaz, Ryan O’Hearn, Franchy Cordero and Josh Lester, with Rutschman, Anthony Santander and James McCann members of the 40-man roster who are also candidates to serve as Mountcastle’s backup.
“I think I can play anywhere,” Vavra said. “I think I can contribute in a lineup. I think I can bring a different tool set. How I go about my at-bats is probably a little different than some other people. I think that’s something that bodes in my favor, and I think that getting on base and setting up those big hitters behind me can go a long way.”
Kjerstad looking to build on AFL success
It took two years for Heston Kjerstad to play in a professional game after the Orioles drafted him second overall in 2020. He doesn’t think it’s a guarantee it will take two years from that first game for him to reach the majors.
Kjerstad said Saturday that he “for sure” believes he can make his major league debut in 2023, which is set to be his first full professional season after lost time to heart and hamstring ailments. His Most Valuable Player performance in the Arizona Fall League could see the 23-year-old outfielder open the season at Double-A Bowie after he hit .309/.394/.457 between Low-A and High-A in 2022. But he’ll start the year as a nonroster invitee to the Orioles’ major league spring training camp, beginning a campaign in which he said there’s “no chance” he plays with limitations.
“Just to be invited is an honor,” Kjerstad said. “To be able to go out and work with the big league coaching staff and be around the big league players, it’s going to be a huge learning opportunity and a chance for me to help improve my game.”
The Orioles drafted Kjerstad, a projected first-round pick, out of the University of Arkansas earlier than expected partly because they believed his left-handed power could quickly make him a force in the middle of their lineup. Despite missing two years with the heart condition myocarditis and a severe left hamstring strain, Kjerstad believes he’s used that lost time to develop into an even better player than he was in college.
“I’m more mature as a hitter, taking better at-bats and got a little bit more pop than I used to more consistently,” Kjerstad said. “Honestly, I think I’m a leg up from back then.”
Kjerstad has said, throughout his odyssey, he never stopped believing he would return. He ranked 80th in MLB Pipeline’s list of the game’s top 100 prospects, showing evaluators around the game still believe in his talent, too.
“It’s good to see when people respect what you’ve been doing, but at the end of the day, whether you’re on the list or how high you are on the list or anything like that, you’ve got to go out and play baseball,” Kjerstad said. “That’s the fun thing about baseball is just you’ve got to go out and prove it every day, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing this year.”
Vespi out for WBC but eyeing opening day
After left-handed reliever Nick Vespi underwent hernia surgery last month, the Orioles said he was expected to be available early in the 2023 season. Vespi said Saturday that he has his eye on opening day.
The procedure will keep Vespi from pitching for Italy in the World Baseball Classic, though.
“It would’ve been a really cool experience, but at the end of the day, I’m mostly focused on opening day and winning with the Orioles,” he said.
Vespi didn’t allow an earned run in 26 outings for Triple-A Norfolk in 2022 and had a 4.10 ERA in 25 appearances with Baltimore, though half the runs he surrendered came in one game. His absence from the WBC leaves the Orioles’ confirmed participants as outfielder Cedric Mullins and reliever Dillon Tate with the United States, starting pitcher Dean Kremer with Israel, outfielder Anthony Santander with Venezuela and infielder Ramon Urías with Mexico. Urías’ brother, Milwaukee Brewers infielder Luis Urías, will be among his teammates.
“It means a lot,” Urías said. “We always wanted to play together, and having the opportunity to play at this stage with him is just super special for us.”