Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura’s bright future

The Milwaukee Brewers might have struck gold with Keston Hiura, their first-round selection, in 2017’s first year player draft. Let’s talk about Brewers prospect Keston Hiura’s bright future before he’s a star everyone knows.

David Stearns, Milwaukee’s general manager, has done many good things in his first two years at the helm. Perhaps one of Stearns’ best moves though is his selection of sweet-swinging second baseman Keston Hiura with the ninth pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. For Hiura, the best is most certainly yet to come.

Hiura’s Bat

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Keston Hiura was the Division I college batting champion last season at UC Irvine. (Photo courtesy of: Baseball America)

Hiura was billed by many pundits leading up to the draft as the best pure hitter available. It’s not hard to figure out why either. As a junior at the University of California–Irvine, Hiura batted (.442/.567/.693) leading to an astounding OPS of (1.260). As far as college bats go, a scout for any MLB team would be hard pressed to find one better.

Hiura did, after all, lead Division I college hitters in both batting (.442) and OBP (.567).

Hiura’s hitting prowess saw him named as a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes Award in 2017. Though the UC-Irvine standout didn’t win the honor, it is most certainly high praise to be named to the semi-finalists list.

The hits just kept on coming for Hiura after making the jump to pro-ball as well. In his first 42 games of professional baseball, the first-round pick belted an impressive (.371/.422/.611), split between two levels.

Putting those number into perspective, Hiura spent the majority of his first pro season at Low-A Wisconsin. It was there that Hiura put up an impressive batting line, hitting (.333/.374./.476). As the old turn of phrase goes, “That’s just par for the course.” Well, for Keston Hiura it is anyway.

Hiura, at 21 years of age, still has a long road to travel to get to the big leagues. His bat might be hard to slow, however. He showcases the plate discipline of a player more advanced in years, and that bodes well for Hiura. He could potentially be one of the first hitters from this year’s draft class to step to the plate in the majors.

Hiura’s Injury

As good as Hiura is at the dish, he doesn’t come without a certain amount of risk attached. This is not a unique circumstance though. There is a certain amount of risk with every prospect that makes the jump to pro-ball.

In 2016, as a sophomore at UC-Irvine, Hiura suffered an injury to the elbow of his throwing arm. While playing center field, Hiura unleashed a throw to home resulting in a sprained ulnar collateral ligament. The injury led to many MLB teams wondering if the dreaded Tommy John surgery would be in Hiura’s future.

Hiura has said in an interview with Baseball America that the injury never affected his swing. It did, however, affect his fielding. As a result of the injury, Hiura spent the entirety of his junior season as UC-Irvine’s DH. Hiura’s lack of game film in the field and the threat of a possible surgery on that elbow without doubt caused some of the teams picking ahead of the Brewers to go another direction with their pick.

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Hiura has also played for the U.S. Collegiate National Team. (Photo courtesy of: Orlando Sentinel)

An outfielder by trade, Hiura’s task now is learning how to become a professional second baseman. Not a small task, but if anyone is capable of the transition it would be Hiura. This youngster has drawn rave reviews from his former coach at UC-Irvine, Mike Gillespie, about his work ethic.

Much to the delight of David Stearns and the Brewers organization, Hiura was back in the field by the middle of August while with Low-A Wisconsin. Even better still, Tommy John surgery has been ruled out for Hiura’s elbow.

Hiura did suffer an injury that saw him on the DL toward season’s end, but breathe easy Brewers fans, it was a strained hamstring that kept him out of action. Hiura’s arm is seemingly good to go for 2018 and his first full season of professional baseball.

Playing a full season at second base, the Brewers and Hiura should know very early on in the year if his arm is going to be an issue. At least for the moment though, all signs point to his UCL sprain as being behind him.

Hiura in 2018

Based on the numbers Hiura pounded out in his first taste of professional baseball, Brewers fans might want to see him start 2018 at High-A Carolina. It is very doubtful that he will start there with the work he needs in the field.

It is far more likely that he will be the opening day second baseman for Low-A Wisconsin.

While his bat is ready right now to face tougher competition, his glove invariably needs work. Brewers fans need to remember that Hiura is essentially learning a new position. There will be a learning curve to this process and it will take time.

Hiura won’t be toiling away at Low-A Wisconsin all season though. I fully expect Hiura the climb the prospect ladder at least one level by the end of 2018, if not two levels. It isn’t unreasonable to assume Hiura could hit his way to Double-A by season’s end. Of course, this depends on how Hiura adapts to second base and how that arm holds up.

The good news though, is if a player can play center field he more than likely can handle second base as well. As he logs more innings, he should come to terms with how to play second base fairly quickly.

Another factor that bodes well for Hiura is time. At the tender age of 21 and with a glut of rising prospects at the keystone positions in the Brewers organization, there is no need to fast-track this young man to the big leagues. Time is on Hiura’s side as far as learning how to properly defend second base is concerned.

Hiura’s ETA in Milwaukee

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Keston Hiura signs his autograph for some of the Milwaukee faithful. (Photo courtesy of: The Post-Crescent)

While the fans in Milwaukee will want to see Hiura sporting the ball and glove logo on his hat sooner rather than later, it would be asking too much to see him up with the big club at any point in 2018. He simply has too much glove work to do before making that jump.

Also, there is no question that as the standard of pitching gets better, his bat will have to adjust as well. In this category though, Hiura will most likely do just fine. There is absolutely nothing in his past to suggest that he will suddenly forget how to hit. It is, after all, his best tool.

The future is indeed a bright one for Keston Hiura. He’ll be knocking on the door of the big leagues by mid-2019, and his bat will be the major reason why. But of course, this is all assuming he experiences no further problems with that balky elbow on his throwing arm.

Hiura seems intent on battering minor league pitching. This should leave Brewers fans with those warm and fuzzy feelings inside. With the emergence of Travis Shaw at third base and Orlando Arica at short stop, adding in Keston Hiura could be a watershed moment for the Brewers organization overall.

How quickly Hiura makes the transition to second base will be the difference maker in how quickly he ascends to the big club in Milwaukee. One thing is for certain though, if his glove adapts anywhere near as quickly as his bat has, you will see him in Milwaukee sooner than later.

Hiura has the bat to play beyond the level he is currently at. If he can become just an average defender in short order, he will be forcing the Brewers’ hand very soon.

For Brewers GM David Stearns this is an excellent problem to have. And it’s a far cry from the pile of smoldering, twisted, wreckage that the Brewers’ farm system had become under Stearns’ predecessor, Bob Melvin.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: azcentral.com)

 

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Shortstop are commonly known for their glove, but after the explosion of home runs in 2016, shortstops have emerged as a power position heading into 2017. 15 shortstops hit 20 or more homeruns last season, where only two did in 2015. The shortstop position has transitioned from one of the weakest to one of the deepest.

The top 25 shortstops have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Orlando Arcia (MIL), Ketel Marte (ARI), Jose Iglesias (DET), Andrelton Simmons (LAA), and Jose Reyes (NYM).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Manny Machado’s consistency warrants a first round pick. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  • Manny Machado (BAL)
  • Carlos Correa (HOU)
  • Corey Seager (LAD)
  • Trea Turner (WSH)
  • Francisco Lindor (CLE)
  • Xander Bogaerts (BOS)

 

Manny Machado, primarily a third basemen, played 44 games at shortstop in 2016, after an injury sidelined Baltimore Orioles starter, J.J. Hardy. Machado, a career .285 hitter, has tallied at least 35 home runs and 100 runs in his last two seasons.

The 24-year-old has yet to reach the 100 RBI plateau, although if continues to progress, he could easily see a .300/100/40/100 season in his near future.

Machado’s consistency and potential make him the first shortstop that should be taken in 2017.

Xander Bogaerts is one of the safest picks an owner can make in 2017. The 24-year-old will be entering his fourth season in the majors, where he is a career .286 hitter.

His .320 batting average in 2015, and .330 batting average in the first half of 2016, suggest that he can sustain a well above .300 average for a full season in 2017.

The 6-foot-3 180-pounder raised his home run total from seven in 2015, to 21 in 2016. Bogaerts power is sure to improve one day, although I believe he will focus solely on sustaining contact rates next season.

Whether the power numbers show or not in 2017, Bogaerts is well worth a top 25 pick.

 

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Trevor Story is healthy and ready to go for 2017. (Courtesy of Sporting News)

  • Trevor Story (COL)
  • Jonathan Villar (MIL)
  • Jean Segura (SEA)
  • Troy Tulowitzki (TOR)
  • Aledmys Diaz (STL)
  • Addison Russell (CHC)
  • Dansby Swanson (ATL)

 

Trevor Story had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all-time, and only played in 97 games due to a hand injury in 2016. After mashing 27 home runs with 76 RBI’s, Story managed to be one of the most productive players in the league during that stretch.

He will bat in the middle of an electric Colorado Rockies lineup, which may put up historically great numbers this season.

The only drawback on the 24-year-old is his atrocious 31.3% strike out rate, which may suggest that he sees a decline in batting average.

Regression of average or not, Story is well worth a top 35 pick, as his power upside is tremendous.

Dansby Swanson is currently being drafted as the 170th overall player, and 17th shortstop off the board, although I have him ranked as the 13th. The upside with Swanson is incredible, as he has the potential to bat .300 while batting second for the Atlanta Braves. This gives him the potential to score 100 runs in his rookie campaign.

The big power numbers have not shown yet, although he had sneaky power in college, hitting 15 home runs in 71 games. He also hit eight home runs in 84 games at the AA-level, which shows that he has the potential to hit 15 or so this season, giving him a chance to be a top 10 shortstop.

I’m reaching on Swanson’s potential in all drafts in 2017.

 

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Can Didi Gregorius continue to improve upon his breakout 2016 campaign?(Courtesy of Getty Images)

  • Didi Gregorius (NYY)
  • Brandon Crawford (SF)
  • Brad Miller (TB)
  • Javier Baez (CHC)
  • Eduardo Nunez (SF)

 

Didi Gregorius, most notably the player that replaced Derek Jeter, quietly had a breakout seasons in 2016. Gregorius has continuously improved his batting average, going from .257 in 2014, to .276 in 2016. He has also seen a huge jump in power numbers, as he hit 20 home runs, which is 11 better than his former career high of 9.

The 27-year-old still has room for improvement, although his power numbers may fall, as the majority of his homers limp out of the Yankees short porch in right field.

Gregorius is a safe late round selection, but may have limited upside.

Eduardo Nunez spent his 2016 split between the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants. The All-Star batted .321 with 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases in the first half of 2016. This shows how good Nunez can be when he is playing every day at his best.

The reason for Nunez’s low ranking is because of his lack of consistency and poor production with the Giants. Hitting home runs as a righty in San Francisco can be quite challenging, which makes me think his home run totals will drop severally.

Nunez has a solid average and will continue to steal some bases, which makes him a good mid to late round pick in all formats.

 

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Jose Peraza will finally have an open spot in the Cincinnati Reds lineup. (Courtesy of MLBdailydish.com)

  • Jose Peraza (CIN)
  • Elvis Andrus (TEX)
  • Danny Espinosa (LAA)
  • Asdrubal Cabrera (NYM)
  • Marcus Semien (OAK)
  • Matt Duffy (TB)
  • Tim Anderson (CWS)

 

Jose Peraza has been compared to Jose Altuve, in not only their size, but also their skill set. Both have elite speed and get on base at a well above average clip. Peraza will finally have an everyday role with the Cincinnati Reds as they have parted ways with their franchise second basemen, Brandon Phillips, in a trade with the Atlanta Braves.

Peraza has stolen 281 bases in 611 professional games, which is about a half a steal per game. This alone gives Peraza elite stolen base value, as he has the chance to steal over 60 bases. This paired with the fact that he is a career .312 hitter gives him great potential to be a breakout star in 2017.

Tim Anderson commonly flies under the radar, as he will bat at the bottom of an inconsistent Chicago White Sox lineup. 2017 will be Anderson’s first full MLB season, which could mean a breakout is in the making for the 23-year-old.

We cannot forget that he stole 49 bases in 125 games in 2015. While he bats at the end of the order, which limits his run and RBI potential, he should be given plenty of opportunities to swipe bags.

The former first-round pick in 2013 is a career .283 hitter, which is a solid floor for a starting fantasy short stop. Anderson’s ADP of 191 makes him well worth a late pick as a middle infielder or starter in deeper leagues.

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National League Central

2017 National League Preview: National League Central

The National League Central is one of the most top-heavy divisions in the majors. With the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, perennial playoff contenders St. Louis Cardinals, and the ever competitive Pittsburgh Pirates, this division is one of the toughest in the National League. The top team in the National League Central is a no-brainer, but 2-5 are another story all together.

5th: Cincinnati Reds

Projected 2017 Record: 70-92

National League Central

Joey Votto headlines a rebuilding Cincinnati club . (Credit: Al Behrman/ AP Photo).

The Cincinnati Reds seem to be on the tail end of a long rebuild with three straight losing seasons. Reds stalwart Brandon Phillips was traded in the offseason. Accordingly, infielder Jose Peraza will be the Opening Day starter at second base. He will join Scott Schebler, Tucker Barnhart and Billy Hamilton to form a solid young core for the Reds.

Veterans Joey Votto and Adam Duvall will support the offense while the younger players come along. Those two won’t be enough to carry a weak offense and a developing pitching staff.

The Reds will use 2017 as a tryout year and will be putting out lineups that will not be competitive. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but the sun should come up soon in Cincinnati.

4th: Milwaukee Brewers

Projected 2017 Record: 75-87

Its been half a decade since the Brewers tasted postseason baseball. Three of the team’s top 12 players by WAR in 2016 are gone, and their roles will need to be filled. Gone are solid relievers Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress, as well as catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The Brewers will rely on a mix of veterans and prospects to lead them.

Up the middle, shortstop Orlando Arcia will pair with second baseman Jonathan Villar to form a young infield tandem that should provide a spark at the top of the order. They will rely on Ryan Braun and former KBO star Eric Thames to drive them in.

Veterans Junior Guerra and Matt Garza bookend a young rotation. Zach Davies, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson all need to improve. The offense should be around league average, but the pitching staff will need to make solid improvements to make 2017 anything more than a rebuilding year.

3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates

Projected 2017 Record: 84-78

National League Central

Andrew McCutchen should return to form in 2017 (Credit: Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images).

The Pirates are coming off a dramatic offseason in which they almost traded away their franchise player Andrew McCutchen. He will enter the 2017 season in a new frame of mind and at a new position. He will move from center to right field, accompanying a reshuffle of the outfield.

Even with a realignment in the outfield, it remains the team’s strength. McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco form a robust top of the lineup. Jung Ho Kang and Francisco Cervelli also add to Pittsburgh’s solid offense.

The rotation is filled with former top prospects. Ivan Nova is the only non-home grown starter. Gerrit Cole is the ace, and it remains to be seen if the rest of the rotation can turn its promise into prosperity.

With a solid club all around, the Pirates could finish anywhere in the top two of the National League Central.

2nd: St. Louis Cardinals

Projected 2017 Record: 87-75

After two World Series appearances in the previous five seasons, the Cardinals failed to qualify for the postseason in 2016. This year’s team is full of talent and NL All-Stars all over the diamond.

On the mound, 25-year-old Carlos Martinez will lead the rotation. He will be backed by Mike Leake, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and veteran Adam Wainwright. All five have at least one NL-All Star appearance.

Nevertheless, the talent isn’t limited to just the mound. Matt Carpenter headlines the lineup. The addition of Dexter Fowler provides speed St. Louis has been lacking. He will be joined by outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to give the Cardinals an excellent outfield trio. Stalwart catcher Yadier Molina will be behind the plate for his 14th season in St. Louis.

A deep pitching staff is the strength of the Cardinals, but their offense is not far behind. They will compete for one of the two National League Wild Cards in 2017.

1st: Chicago Cubs

Projected 2017 Record: 105-57

National League Central

Kris Bryant and the Cubs should easily win the National League Central (Credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

Coming off a dramatic World Series victory, the Cubs are the de facto favorite in the National League Central, if not a favorite to repeat as World Series Champions. It’s easy to see why.

Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester sit atop of a solid rotation. Young starters Kyle Hendricks and Mike Montgomery will be joined by grizzled veteran John Lackey to round it out. The talent on the mound is good, but it’s what’s off the mound that has Cubs fans drooling.

Former top prospects Addison Russell and Javier Baez form one of the elite shortstop-second base tandems in the National League. In the corners of the infield, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant are some of the top producers at their respective positions.

Supported by super utility man Ben Zobrist and right fielder Jason Heyward, the Cubs are stacked in the field. That doesn’t even include uber-prospect catcher Willson Contreras, who will play his first full season in the majors in 2017.

Chicago Cubs fans have plenty to be excited about in 2017, as a repeat title is well within reach.

 

 

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NL Central Preview

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The Chicago Cubs won 97 games last year, good for only 3rd place in the National League Central. The Cubbies’ 97 wins was not only the 3rd highest total in the NL Central, it was also the 3rd highest win total in all of MLB.

The NL Central was without a doubt the best division in all of baseball last year. With the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the aforementioned Cubs all making the playoffs.

With a big offseason for the Cubs, the Pirates relatively standing pat, and the Cardinals being the Cardinals, the NL Central is once again set to be one of the better divisions in all of baseball.

Here’s how this interesting division will shake up, with a player to watch for each club included.

1st Place: Chicago Cubs 100-62

The Cubs are looking for their first World Series title in over a century and are coming over an impact offseason. With sabermetric superstar Jason Heyward and the dependable and versatile Ben Zobrist infused into a lineup already dripping with young talent, the north siders look poised to have one of the better lineups in the NL. Manager Joe Madden will be able to keep the clubhouse together and help the team live up to expectations, something winners of the offseason have had trouble doing in recent years.

Player to Watch: John Lackey

With all the young talent oozing from the Cubs roster it seems odd to pick a 37 year old right handed starting pitcher who isn’t even the ace of the staff. However, if Lackey can fight off father time in 2016 and repeat his 2015 season that saw him post a 2.77 ERA in 218 innings, it could result in the Cubs having the best starting rotation in the NL Central.

2nd Place: St. Louis Cardinals 95-67, 1st NL Wild Card Spot

On paper the Cardinals got worse over the offseason, losing Heyward and Lackey to their division foes. Still, the Cardinals will find a way in 2016 as they always do. Mike Leake was brought in to solidify a strong and deep rotation. Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist anchor a bullpen that is the best in the division. An injury to everyday shortstop Jhonny Peralta in spring training definitely hurts, but, the Cardinals still have a good mix of dependable veteran performers and high upside youngsters rounding out their lineup.

Player to Watch: Randal Grichuk

Grichuk is slotted to be the Cardinals every day center fielder in 2016. In 2015 he posted one of the highest average exit velocities in all of baseball in 2015 at 92.2 mph, a testament to how often he makes hard contact. If Grichuk can continue this trend and be a respected top or middle of the lineup bat, it would go a long way toward the Cardinals having one of the better lineup in the National League to go along with their always solid pitching.

3rd Place: Pittsburgh Pirates 88-74, miss the playoffs

The Pirates will fight for a playoff spot all season long, but, come up just short in the end due to stiffened competition across the National League. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco make up the most athletically talented outfield in all of baseball. Meanwhile, Fransisco Liriano and Gerit Cole anchor a rotation that is good enough to keep the Pirates contending. At the end of the day the talent of the Cardinals and the Cubs along with an improvement from the NL East and West will result in the Pirates coming up just short of another trip to the NL Wild Card game.

Player to Watch: Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow could be the piece that puts the Pirates over the top and into the playoffs. His 6’8’’, 225 lb frame is hard to miss and his upper 90’s fastball jumps off the page at you. Best case scenario: Glasnow harnesses his potential in the Major Leagues early and joins Cole among the elite young starters in the game. If that’s the case it would give the Pirates an impressive trio atop the rotation. Glasnow could also possibly join Mark Melancon and Tony Watson in the bullpen to form a terrific back end of the ‘Pen.

4th Place: Milwaukee Brewers 70-92

While the top of the NL Central is talented, the bottom two teams in the division are more likely to be contenders for the no. 1 overall pick next June than a playoff spot. The Brewers get a slight edge over the Reds in this prediction because of a better bullpen and a more experienced starting rotation. Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith form a nice duo at the back of a bullpen that will be better than your typical 90 loss team. Meanwhile Ryan Braun will be his regular self and Jonathan Lucroy will return to form after an inconsistent showing in 2015.

Player to Watch: Orlando Arcia

As anyone who has ever followed a rebuilding team knows, sometimes tracking the minor league box scores can provide more excitement than actually watching the Major League club. Jonathan Villar is around to keep SS warm until the organization deems Arcia ready (or until after the club delays his service clock another year). Arcia is the brightest prospect in the Brewers system and the 21 year old should be the Brewers’ everyday shortstop sooner rather than later.

5th place: Cincinnati Reds 65-97

The Reds should be fun for their fans to watch this year, but, it won’t result in much on field success. They will have plenty of young talent in the rotation, but, the young arms will most likely come with supreme inconsistency. Devin Mesoraco will look to rebound from a hip injury that kept him out the majority of the 2015 season and fan favorite Joey Votto will remain the anchor of what has become a feeble looking lineup.

Player to Watch: Rasiel Iglesias

The Reds will have plenty of young guns in the rotation that will be fun to watch grow as a group. Of the bunch, Rasiel Iglesias appears to be the most likely to be successful in the 2016 campaign. The 26 year old Cuban native posted 9.8 K/9 over the course of 18 appearances (16 starts) last year to go along with a 3.55 FIP. The Reds will entrust Iglesias with the Opening Day start and hope he hits the ground running as the staff ace in 2016.