Keston Hiura Just Keeps Hitting
GLENDALE, Ariz.—Coming out of UC Irvine, Keston Hiura established himself as one of the purest hitters in the country. Over three seasons with the Anteaters, the California native hit a smashing .375/.466/.581 with 22 home runs and 135 RBIs.
Elbow problems limited Hiura to a DH-only role, which meant he had to hit as well as he did to continue impressing scouts. The Brewers were convicted enough in Hiura's bat that they were willing to wait on his glove, and they selected him with the ninth overall pick in 2017.
Since then, he's rewarded their faith and then some. After a tremendous season in which he hit .293/.357.464 between high Class A Carolina and Double-A Biloxi, the Brewers sent Hiura to the Arizona Fall League to add a final coat of polish before he's ready to contend for a job in Milwaukee, possibly as early as next season.
The 22-year-old has picked up right where he left off in the regular season, going 3-for-7 with seven RBIs in his first taste of the AFL. The cherry on top came Wednesday, when Hiura lined a hanging breaking ball from Glendale reliever Kyle Zurak (Yankees) over the wall in left-center field for a grand slam.
"I knew I got a good amount of the barrel, but I wasn't sure, height-wise, if it was going to make it out," Hiura said afterward. "Whenever I try to hit the ball, I'm just trying to find a gap. I'll run out of the box as hard as I can and try to get on second or third."
More than his offensive feats, Hiura's 2018 season was about returning to the field on a full-time basis. He's played second base in each of his first two AFL games, and he played 79 more games at the position during the regular season.
He'd played the field just three times over his first 42 games in his debut season as a professional.
"It feels really good," he said. "That was the main goal for me this past year—to get a lot of reps on the infield and stay healthy. I was able to do that for the most part. Every rep I can get out there off of live at-bats is a plus for me."
Even as he works his way back to being completely comfortable in the field, Hiura's value is largely going to be tied to his bat. He maintains his swing, which is short, quick and explosive, largely through feel.
That's especially impressive because of the leg kick he employs as a timing mechanism. If the kick is early or late even by the tiniest of margins, everything that follows gets out of sync as well.
"At times (the leg kick can be difficult to maintain)," he said, "but I really pride myself on, when I'm in the dugout or on deck, really timing myself up and making sure I get my foot down early enough to where I can be on time for the fastball and also adjust to offspeed."
After a full season of domination, it's pretty clear that Hiura's timing has been nothing short of impeccable.
Pro Podcast: Vlad Jr., Forrest Whitley And Other AFL Notes
Vlad Jr. and Forrest Whitley are the AFL stars, but far from its only standouts. Josh Norris joins to delve beyond the obvious.
NOTES: We're running out of ways to describe the greatness of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. BA's reigning Minor League Player of the Year notched three more hits on Wednesday, bringing his two-day total to 6-for-9 with four doubles and four RBIs. Fastballs, offspeed pitches, righties, lefties—it doesn't matter. He hits them all with remarkable ease. He also showed off his well above-average throwing arm at third base too.
Long, loud double for Vlad pic.twitter.com/wZip3rg1kF
Guerrero was also at the center of one of the scariest moments of the season, unfortunately. His line drive back to the mound in his third at-bat caught Salt River righthander Tyler Mark (D-backs) flush on the side of his head and left him on the ground near the pitcher's mound for several minutes while trainers and coaches attended to him. Guerrero's ball hit him with such force that it bounded into the third-base dugout for a ground-rule double.
A media representative said afterward that there was no official update on Mark's condition.
— Rangers prospect Charles LeBlanc made his AFL debut on Wednesday and went 4-for-5 with four well-struck singles up the middle. Rangers teammate Yanio Perez added a pair of doubles as well. ... Keep an eye on Padres righthander Dauris Valdez. The 22-year-old Dominican fits the mold of today's hulking power reliever at 6-foot-8 and 221 pounds and fills the zone with upper-90s fastballs. He gave up a bit of hard contact, but was nasty when times. Arms like Valdez's are too talented to ignore. ... Valdez's 98 mph fastball tied with Cardinals righthander Connor Jones for the highest velocity of the day.
— Orioles prospect Steve Wilkerson made consistently loud contact and was a blaze around the bases each time. ... Speaking of speed, now that Terrance Gore is with the Cubs, the next time the Royals make the playoffs they could call on outfielder Nick Heath to fill the same role. Heath went 3-for-6 with three stolen bases (including one where he escaped a rundown after being picked off and another when he got such a jump off of second base that he stole third base before the pitcher realized what was happening.