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Keston Hiura Starts To Turn His Offense Around

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ZEBULON, N.C.—Keston Hiura got away from being the hitter he wanted to be at the start of the season.

The Brewers' No. 3 prospect began the year batting .185 with one home run and 18 strikeouts in his first 65 at-bats for high Class A Carolina, an uncharacteristic showing for a player who was drafted ninth overall last year because his bat was so prodigious.

Hiura sat back and re-examined what he was doing in recent days, giving an honest appraisal of himself and his at-bats. After a few days of reflection, he found the problem.

“It was more of just me kind of staying in my approach,” said Hiura, ranked No. 46 in BA's Top 100 Prospects. “I’ve been swinging at a lot of pitches that have been out of the zone or pitches that I’m not really good at hitting at. I think it’s just a matter of seeing the ball better, being patient at the plate, and then putting good swings on it. I feel fine, my swing feels fine, all that feels good. It’s just a matter of swinging at the right pitches at the right time. I need to string some good games together, and hopefully it will take care of itself.”

Hiura’s goal of stringing good games together has begun in earnest this week. He snapped a 0-for-16 slump with a walkoff RBI single on Wednesday night, and on Thursday he opened a doubleheader by going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles to pace an 8-0 victory over Myrtle Beach (Cubs).

Even in his 0-for-3 showing in game two of the doubleheader, Hiura’s improvement was apparent. He hit a chopper up the middle that was headed for single before the pitcher deflected it to the second baseman for a forceout, and in his final at-bat Hiura thumped a sky-high fly ball that he just missed.

“I feel like it’s going in a good direction,” Hiura said. “It definitely feels good to make good contact at the plate.”

The Brewers drafted Hiura in 2017 after a college career defined by offensive dominance. The UC Irvine product led Team USA's Collegiate National Team in home runs and slugging percentage the summer after his sophomore year—ahead of noted power hitters Brendan McKay, Jake Burger and Seth Beer—and followed up by hitting .442 as a junior for the Anteaters. That included six home runs in the first month before teams just stopped pitching to him. He was issued 35 walks in his final 37 games.

He hit .371/.422/.611 after signing with the Brewers for $4 million, and entered 2018 considered one of the top offensive prospects in baseball.

That’s what made his start so uncharacteristic. But even when the numbers didn’t look good and Hiura felt like he strayed from his approach, Carolina hitting coach Bobby Bell saw the signs of an elite hitter.

“You can consider it a slow start, but the one thing you gotta remember is it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Bell said. “He’s had a lot of balls that he’s crushed in the middle of the yard that just didn’t go and that’s just part of the game.

“They’re just not falling right now but I guarantee you one thing: They will. And when they do, somebody is in trouble.”

While Hiura gets his hitting groove back, he is still waiting to take the field. Hiura suffered a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow before his junior year at UC Irvine and had a platelet-enriched plasma injection in an effort to stave off Tommy John surgery. He served as the designated hitter the entire year at UCI and has been a DH exclusively since entering pro ball.

Drafted as a second baseman, Hiura is currently taking infield practice at the keystone but doesn’t have a date for when he’ll be ready for game action.

“I don’t really have a timetable,” Hiura said. “I’ve been throwing which is a good thing and it feels good, so it’s just a matter of how (the organization) is thinking. But I’m anxious to get back on the field. I’ve been on a throwing program, we’re taking it easy, my arm feels good.”

Whenever his arm is healthy enough to get back onto the field, it will still be Hiura’s bat that carries him. After his rough start, he’s showing signs of turning it around and blossoming into the premier hitter he was drafted to be.

“I’ve been around some good players over my years, but this kid is special,” Bell said. “He’s going to be special, and he’s going to be a special big league hitter.”

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NEWS AND NOTES

Cubs No. 1 prospect Aramis Ademan reached base in four of his six plate appearances in the doubleheader for Myrtle Beach. The 19-year-old shortstop finished 3-for-5 with three singles and a walk and showed the ability to use the whole field. Ademan went 2-for-2 in the first game, stroking a liner the opposite way into left field to beat the shift in his first at-bat and following with a hard shot up the middle in his second at-bat. He went 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored in the second game, with his hard grounder up the middle going for an infield single to break up Conor Harber’s no-hitter in the fifth inning. Ademan raised his average from .246 to .274 with the performance.

Righthander Tyson Miller, the Cubs fourth-round pick in 2016, started game two for Myrtle Beach and showed the best stuff of any pitcher on the day, sitting 92-94 mph with a biting 81-84 mph slider. Miller pitched six innings, gave up two hits and one run (unearned), walked one and struck out three to improve to 2-2, 3.15.

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