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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Why You Should Root for Northwestern in the NCAA Tournament

The main question here isn’t why should you root for Northwestern, but why not? Chris Collins finally did it. Come Thursday March 16 the Wildcats will make their NCAA tournament debut against Vanderbilt in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Northwestern

The Wildcats celebrate their first NCAA tournament bid (Photo/ USA Today)

Northwestern was the only team in a power five conference to never appear in the tournament before this past Sunday.

They had just seven winning seasons since the 2000-01 season. Their best finish in the Big Ten was tied for fifth in the 2003-2004 season. They also did not have a winning conference record since the 1967-68 season until this year.

The program is quickly turning around from the looks of things. The Wildcats finished 10-8 in Big Ten regular season play with a win over Michigan in the final seconds. They won two games in the Big Ten tournament against Rutgers and Maryland until they eventually fell to Wisconsin in semifinals.

Now Northwestern looks to make their mark on the NCAA tournament after drawing an eight seed.

Only three first-time tourney participants have made it to the sweet sixteen before being eliminated since 1985: Florida in 1987 (six seed), Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 (15 seed) and Cleveland State in 1986 (14 seed).

It’s been a while since a first-time tourney goer has been such a high seed. The last school to make the tournament for the first time and be better than a ten seed was UC Irvine in 1998 as a nine seed. The highest seed for a first timer since 1985 was the Florida team in 1987.

Northwestern is looking forward with a real chance to compete in the tournament despite being the last power five conference team to make the tournament.

The Wildcats face a ninth-seeded Vanderbilt team in the first round of the tournament. The Commodores snuck into the last-minute at-large bids with a win over Florida in the SEC conference tournament. Vanderbilt has 15 losses on the year, including their loss in the SEC tournament to Arkansas. Some may say the nine seed is generous.

Only 11 teams in the past 60 years with 14 losses have received an at large bid before this year. Vanderbilt tops that with its 15 losses.

The Wildcats not only have a real chance of beating Vanderbilt in the round of 64, but they also have a chance to win their second game in the round of 32 where they would most likely face Gonzaga. Many believe Gonzaga is the weakest of the four one seeds.

Northwestern

Northwestern students also celebrated Sunday with the Wildcats first bid to the NCAA tournament (Photo/Patrick Gorski- USA Today)

What is also interesting is that it would be hard to find a reason to root against them.

Most of the time when people root against a team, it might be for multiple reasons with the most popular probably being its a rival team. The team also may always be good, or maybe you just don’t like them. None of those apply to Northwestern.

You can’t say they have a true rival since they have never been good. There may be just a couple Big Ten teams. As stated before, they haven’t ever been good, so you can’t dislike them for that. The only other reason we can think of that a person may not like them is because they didn’t get accepted into the school. However, it is a pretty hard school to get into.

If you’re looking for a feel-good story, this would be the one. It is also a story that could very well last until the second weekend of the tournament. Perhaps you just want a random team to root for. Northwestern deserves your attention either way, because why not.

 

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