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MLB Draft Profile - Keston Hiura, 2B/OF, UC-Irvine

One of the top college hitters in the draft could be in play for Houston at #15

Tale of the Tape

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 190 lbs.

Throws/Bats: R/R

Age on Draft Day: 20 yrs., 10 mos.

Player Overview

In the recent explosion of amateur talent across MLB from the Rule IV draft, no subset of player has been more valuable at the MLB level than the college position player with upside. “Upside” is a loose term, but if we’re looking back on the successes by Andrew Benintendi, Trea Turner, Kris Bryant, George Springer, et. al, that would mean showing the defensive chops to play an up-the-middle-position at the MLB level with high caliber offense to boot. These players have high ceilings offensively, but also high floors if their bats don’t fully develop due to elite athleticism, outfield arms, or baserunning ability.

The Ringer posted an article about the college player revolution over the last half-decade or so of drafts - these players are simply better options to reach some sort of value compared to prep pitchers and hitters, or college bats who are limited to first base or offer little defensive value. Even college arms, usually considered the top prizes in drafts past, have seen their value and production in the majors decrease, potentially due to overuse at the amateur level.

At a glance in 2017, Adam Haseley represents this perfectly - he’s played top college competition at Virginia, has sabermetric-friendly underlying numbers (more walks than K’s) and has a chance to play centerfield at the next level. That profile would endear itself to GM’s like Jeff Luhnow. Unfortunately, other GM’s have caught on and it would be a huge surprise if Haseley made it out of the top 10 picks tonight.

Enter Keston Hiura, who has a unique situation but comes close to this high-value proposition that many college players exhibit on his bat alone. Hiura’s offensive numbers and general hitting tools are off the charts and close to MLB ready - but his injury questions that determine whether or not he can play quality defense at the MLB level could determine his ultimate value.

Hiura entered UC-Irvine as pretty much an unknown - he went undrafted out of Valencia (CA) High, but he’s absolutely hit everywhere since. His career slash line for the Anteaters in 630 ABs - .375/.466/.693 in the competitive Big West, which sent two teams to the NCAA Super Regionals this past weekend. He also competed on the national circuit for the Team USA College national team last summer.

Hiura has demonstrated a great feel to every aspect of the offensive game that projects all of his offensive tools to above-average or plus. His one elite tool is pure hitting - his hit tool is so advanced that he could probably hit for a decent average in the majors right now. Hiura’s lightning-quick hands and a short, simple swing generate that bat speed that’s lead to the impressive numbers. He features a different load than most, with a quick toe tap and a noticeable load that brings his front/right foot off the ground.

Hiura is a pretty stocky guy and probably maxed-out growth wise; as a result, he probably won’t add a ton of power, but still profiles for decent power numbers - maybe 15-20 homers a year at his ceiling.

The mini-controversy with Hiura is an elbow issue he sustained sliding into home plate and what it could mean for him defensively long-term. Hiura played DH exclusively for Irvine this spring. He would obviously be rusty defensively after a long lay-off, and without Tommy John surgery he would be relegated to a DH role for the future.

This isn’t likely to happen, as any team that drafts Hiura will want to maximize his value and get him on the field (and a National League team would have to, for obvious reasons). He’s looking at a decent layoff from baseball activities if and when he goes under the knife (expect activity in Spring 2018 if surgery happens this summer). Again, Hiura’s bat is so good that he won’t need much seasoning in the minors to develop that, and time to undergo TJ rehab, get healthy and get back into the swing of playing defensive sounds like a good decision for his long-term success in the pros, and won’t push his MLB ETA back too far. Hiura is also very young for a draft-eligible junior, and could still make the majors by his age-22 season even if surgery is inevitable.

Scouts project Hiura as average defensively - it’s nice that he’s played two up-the-middle positions in college, but his athleticism and defensive actions project out to about average, so he doesn’t sound like an elite defensive player. However, Jose Altuve’s defensive game (-5 DRS over the last four seasons) shows you that average defense and an elite bat at second base still makes for an incredibly valuable player.

MLB Comparison

The stature and hit tool reminds me of Dustin Pedroia, who was also a college second baseman from out west.

Does He Make Sense for the Astros?

Houston is one of a few teams that can afford to wait on Hiura’s elbow issue with a deep system and not a lot of playing time available on the infield. He may not be BPA at #15 and there a few other college bats that could be in play, but the hit tool may be too much to pass up and he’s been rumored to go here.