Keston Hiura, the Brewers 23-year old second baseman, proved that he can hit at the big league level in 2019. Can he keep up his production or will he get hit with the sophomore slump?
The Brewers drafted Keston Hiura because they believed his ability to hit would translate to the MLB, after posting a .442 average at UC Irvine in his final year of college. The number nine pick in the 2017 draft made an impression on the Brewers and the league quickly. He even impressed Braves Manager Brain Snitker enough to call him a future Hall of Fame candidate after the Brewers played the Braves.
Hiura’s college hitting ability translated to the minors where he hit .317 with a .928 OPS over parts of three seasons. This caught the eye of many evaluators, including MLB Pipeline, who gave him a hitting grade of 70 on a 20-80 scale. Brewers’ fans were excited for Hiura’s big league arrival and he performed above expectations. Hiura slashed .303/.368/.570 in his first major league season to go with 19 home runs. He hit a total of 38 home runs between the minor leagues and the major league in 2019.
Only Christian Yelich posted a higher average exit velocity than Hiura on the Brewers. Hiura also sported a 44.2% hard hit percentage. He had many big moments at the plate in 2019, none bigger than his walk off home run against the Cubs.
Hiura had an unsustainable .402 BABIP in 2019. A high BABIP to go along with a strike out rate of 30.7% means that Hiura is likely to regress in 2020. Hiura was a below average defender in the 81 games in 2019, posting -4 defensive runs saved. The Brewers reliance on shifts most likely saved him from being a worse defender, because they could position someone defensive minded Orlando Arcia to get to balls that would normally be played by the second baseman.
Hiura had an OPS of 1.062 at home, but his OPS dropped by over .200 points to .849 on the road. Hiura would still be an above average hitter on the road, but those dramatic home road splits are something that needs to be watched moving forward.
What to Expect in 2020
Hiura is a regression candidate because of his high BABIP and strikeout percentage. But, Keston can potentially support this high BABIP if he can lower his strike out rate and continue to hit the ball hard.
We should expect Hiura to be a middle of the order batter with plus power hitting behind Yelich. Hitting behind Yelich may give Hiura an opportunity to keep his batting average above .300 at the same time he should hit somewhere between 25 and 30 home runs.