If I wrote up another old and boring player, Grey was going to make me pass out Razzball lollipops to all the senior citizens in Los Angeles. Young and exciting. Got it. Young and exciting. Scrolling through the NFBC ADP from January 1st to February 19th and……Got it. Keston Hiura of the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s 23 years old. Check. But is he exciting? Well, he only hit 19 home runs and stole 9 bases in 348 plate appearances last season. And he’s being drafted as the 43rd overall player right now. The peoples are definitely excited. He’s Asian, so you know I’m excited, but will drafting him this season bring oohs and aahhs, or will it end up being a tragic flaw?
The first thing that jumped out to me when looking at Hiura was the 30.7% strikeout rate. I hate high strikeout players, but I’ve been coming around to them more recently because of the high upside many of them exhibit. That’s evident with Hiura, as the ISO was .268, and he straight mashed the ball. According to the Statcast data from last season, Hiura had an exit velocity of 91.4 mph and a hard hit rate of 50%! The exit velocity was good for 25th in all of baseball, while the hard hit rate was 7th! No wonder peoples are going goo goo gaga, not for Coco Puffs, but for Keston Hiura.
As I dug deeper, though, I began to get concerned.
First, the BABIP was .402 last season. While he did have an elevated BABIP throughout his minor league career, .400 is kind of ridiculous. It’s not impossible that he maintains that level, but there were only four players that had a BABIP over .360 last season: Trevor Story (.361), Bryan Reynolds (.387), Tim Anderson (.399), and Yoan Moncada (.406). Some regression to the downside should be expected. Steamer has Hiura down for a .330 BABIP this season.
The plate discipline numbers, though, are the scariest. 17.5% swinging strike rate, 76% contact in the zone, and 65% contact in general. The swinging strike rate would have placed him as the second-worst in all of baseball. I was going to put a TRASH label on Hiura, until I saw that Javier Baez had a 18.4% swinging strike rate. The contact rates were similar to Hiura and his chase rate was much higher than Hiura’s. Hmmmm, this is an avenue that needs to be explored more.
When Baez first made it to the bigs, the strikeout rate was 41.5% and he hit .169 in 229 plate appearances. The following season, he improved the strikeout rate to 30% and ended up hitting .289 in 80 plate appearances. When he finally started to get more regular playing time, the strikeout rate fluctuated between 24% and 28% while the batting average was in the .270 to .290 range. Not bad. The BABIP was in the .340 range while he hit 14, 23, 34, and 29 home runs over the span of four seasons. The launch angle and exit velocity numbers were never as robust as Hiura’s, though. I’m getting more bullish by the minute now.
Now, to be fair, Statcast also has Rougned Odor as a player comp to Hiura. Odor had a peak of 33 home runs and 14 stolen bases while batting .271 back in 2016. He also hit .205 last season with a 30.6% strikeout rate while hitting 30 home runs and stealing 11 bases.
I’ll be honest. I wanted to put Hiura into the Odor camp, but then I utilized the few remaining brain cells I have left. Hiura was a phenomenal hitter in high school, college, and the minors. There’s a reason why he was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2017 MLB draft and was considered the top prospect in the Brewers organization. Could there be an adjustment period? Definitely. Do I have confidence that Hiura can make the necessary changes? For sure. When Javier Baez entered the majors, I faded him all the time, but seeing how he’s developed and observing how his hitting profile has translated has given me much optimism for the prospects of Hiura. The two have similar profiles but Hiura seems like a better hitter to me. Time shall tell. TREASURE