When the Brewers selected Keston Hiura with the 9th pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, there were many questions surrounding him as a prospect.
“What position will he play?”
“Is he just a DH?”
“Will he need Tommy John surgery?”
Despite all the noise, there was one thing no one questioned: the legitimacy of his hitting ability. As a college junior, he hit .442/.567/.693 with 8 home runs, 24 doubles, and 42 RBIs for the UC-Irvine Anteaters. With the MLB draft approaching, it was clear that he was a surefire first-round pick. The uncertainty laid in where he ultimately would be selected.
Some had him pegged as a top-5 pick. Others predicted him falling to the 20s, thinking teams would shy away from his injured arm. At #9, the Brewers thought process likely went as such: “We could take a guy with 5-tool potential across the board, or a someone who we are sure has a bat that will get him to the big leagues.” With drafting Hiura, the direction they decided to take is clear. They wanted what was closest to a “sure thing”.
In just under a year of professional baseball, Hiura has already spanned four levels of the minor leagues. He started last year at Rookie-Level Arizona before being promoted to the Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. In total, he hit .371/.422/.611, cementing his status as being the “real deal”. This year, he started out slowly at Class-A Advanced Carolina before going on a tear in the month of May, leading to his recent promotion to Double-A Biloxi. With Carolina, he hit a slick .320/.382/.529 with 7 home runs on the heels of his .377/.437/.664 May slash line.
Hiura’s hitting prowess is unmatched in the Brewers’ minor league system. The Brewers’ pipeline is filled with hitters that either have low-contact and high-power or vice versa. Two examples of this mismatch are Double-A first baseman Jake Gatewood and Triple-A shortstop Mauricio Dubon (now injured). Both have limited ceilings because of the one-sided nature of their offensive game. Hiura, on the other hand, presents the whole package. He grades out as having an elite hit tool, while possessing at least average power at maturity with the potential for more. In addition, he is expected to further develop his plate discipline which will make him a high-level on base threat. Strikeouts aren’t an issue either – he currently carries a 20.6% rate on the season, which is very palatable in today’s game. He should continue to improve in this area as well as he becomes more accustomed with professional pitching, and could ultimately settle in the 13-15% range.
Now to the two questions everyone wants the answers to – where will he play in the field, and when does he get to Milwaukee? The answer to the first question could take many routes, but the most likely is second base. His arm issues are concerning, but as long as he can keep it in playable condition he will be fine. The worst-case scenario would be recurring pain and/or injury that keeps him out of the line-up, which would likely necessitate a trade eventually to an AL team where he could DH. Some have floated the possibility of him playing left field, but I cannot see that happening with the Brewers’ current outfield plethora, along with some impressive prospects that will be ascending to the big-league club at the same time.
The answer to the second question is much simpler: He will get to Milwaukee when he’s ready. David Stearns and Co. have proven to be adept at determining when a player can take the leap from Triple-A. There is a reason we haven’t seen Corbin Burnes make a start yet, just like there’s a reason Freddy Peralta was sent back down to Triple-A. They require seasoning so that when they do make that leap, they are in the best possible position to succeed and contribute. Accordingly, Hiura is not going to be rushed to the big leagues even though the Brewers’ middle infield has been futile offensively. If Hiura proves to be too advanced for the Double-A level come the end of July, we could see him promoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs for the remainder of the season. However, I believe there is close to a zero-percent chance he makes it to Milwaukee before the end of this year. Even though his bat could potentially have some success currently, he still needs much more development defensively before he is major-league ready.
Hiura could be a big name in Milwaukee for many years – but that ride is not yet ready to begin. When it does, it could be something truly special.
So be patient, Brewers Nation. Keston Hiura – the hitting machine – will soon enough be coming to a ballpark near you.