The Brewers are going to need to see some more from Keston Hiura in 2021.
Expectations have always been high for Keston Hiura. Since the Brewers drafted him in the first round in 2017, the constant theme has been “The Man Can Hit”.
Hiura proved as such during his minor league career, quickly working his way up to the big leagues in the middle of the 2019 season. In 84 games, Hiura hit a very respectable .303/.368/.570 with 23 doubles, 19 homers, a .938 OPS, and a 138 OPS+.
Not bad for a rookie. If he had played in more than 84 games, he might have had a chance at the 2019 Rookie of the year award, too.
Hiura quickly went from a prospect that might need more seasoning in the minors to a big threat in the heart of the Brewers lineup.
After the 2019 season, the Brewers lost some of their other offensive threats in Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal to free agency. With them gone, a higher importance was placed on Hiura’s bat filling the hole in the heart of the lineup. The Brewers were essentially going to be dependent on a Hiura-Christian Yelich 1-2 punch in 2020.
Keston Hiura’s Sophomore Season
Both players ended up struggling in 2020, leading to the team’s overall struggles. With Yelich being a veteran, the concern about his ability to hit big league pitching being gone is fairly low. However, Hiura is young and only had a half a season of success in the big leagues.
Hiura finished the season with a .212/.297/.410 slash line with a team-leading 13 homers, but only four doubles, and he struck out a league-leading 85 times. His strikeout percentage spiked to 34.6% this year as he struggled to lay off or make contact with high fastballs.
His struggles could be chalked up to the weirdness of 2020, and there also could’ve been a Sophomore Slump that afflicted him as well.
Defensively, he continued to struggle throwing the ball. The Brewers knew when they drafted him that his defense was a work in progress. To his credit, he has been putting in a lot of work in practice, in the offseason, and in pre-game workouts but he still has the occasional lapses in defensive play.
With the defense from Hiura being subpar, his offense needs to be strong. That was the case in 2019, but not in 2020.
Hiura Going Into His Junior Season
That’s going to make the 2021 season, Hiura’s third year in the big leagues, extremely important. His success or failure in 2021 will determine whether or not his struggles this year were just a one year slump, brought on by the weirdness of the 2020 season, or a sign that big league pitchers have figured him out.
Given Hiura’s track record as a great pure hitter throughout college and up until 2020 in his professional career, I’d still have confidence in Hiura making a positive impact at the plate next season. Hiura will have to make some adjustments, but I fully expect to see Hiura perform closer to his 2019 production than his 2020 production next season.
It still is an important year, though. Two straight poor offensive seasons after only being in the league for two and a half seasons is not ideal. Hiura’s “junior season” in the big leagues is going to be crucial for his career trajectory. He still has two more seasons of pre-arbitration salaries before he becomes arbitration eligible starting in 2023.
It’s also going to be an important year for him defensively. The Brewers have stated they believe he can handle second base but there have already been rumblings he could be moved to first base or possibly to DH, if it sticks around in the National League. If Hiura still doesn’t show the necessary progress to play a passable second base, that changes how the Brewers game plan for their infield going forward.
That kind of move would also diminish Hiura’s overall value, which hurts his earning ability in arbitration and in either extension talks or free agency, depending on what path he chooses to go down. A second baseman with his offensive profile would earn far more money than a first baseman or DH with the same profile.
My confidence is still high that Hiura is going to get back on track in 2021 and improve both offensively and defensively. But it will be something to monitor.
The Brewers are still going to be depending on a Hiura bounceback in 2021, but they’ll also need to add players around the offense if they’re going to compete for a World Series in 2021.