Earlier this year, one of the big questions heading into spring training was what might happen with first baseman Keston Hiura. After bursting on to the scene in his 2019 rookie year, he had largely disappointed in the three seasons after that, eventually being shuffled back and forth between Triple-A Nashville and the majors.
In the end, largely because of a strong spring by free agent pickup Luke Voit, Hiura would end up not making the team and was designated for assignment. No team would end up claiming him on waivers and he would stay with the organization, heading down to Nashville to begin his regular season.
Predictably, Hiura has mashed all season with the Sounds, which is exactly what happened every time he had been optioned there in the past. But even as Voit struggled and was ultimately released and other backup options didn't pan out for various reasons, not to mention starters at first base (Tellez) and designated hitter (Jesse Winker) have also seen their offensive woes, Hiura remained at Triple-A.
Now, however, the Brewers find themselves down another first baseman as Tellez suffered a fluke finger injury while already out on the IL and now won't return to the team for at least 3-4 weeks. So maybe now more than ever, it's time to ask the question.
Is now finally the time to add Keston Hiura back to the Brewers' roster?
While waiting for his next chance at the big leagues, Hiura certainly has been keeping his bat ready by beating up on Triple-A pitching. In 52 games this season, he is slashing .313/.394/.578 with nine doubles, 14 homers, and 46 RBI. But again, hitting in the minors has never been a problem for him.
The problem, is that when he plays at the Major League level, things go south. After hitting .303 with a .938 OPS in 2019, those numbers dropped to .212 and .707 in 2020, .168 and .557 in 2021, and then bumped up again slightly to .226 and .765 last season. Additionally, his strikeout rate escalated each year, starting at an already high 30.8% K rate in 2019 and ending at a staggering 41.7% in 2022.
But if Hiura's minor league numbers are any indication, perhaps he could bring that down in a new stint in the majors. Hiura is striking out 23.8% of the time with the Sounds this season, which would be his lowest mark at the Triple-A level for his career. Granted, he struck out 25.4% of the time last year and it didn't translate to the majors, but it seems as though some changes he's made in his stance could be working out in his favor.
At this point, it might just be worth a shot to add Hiura. Heading into Sunday, the Brewers were 25th in the league at 4.17 runs per game, so any shot in the arm of the offense would be helpful. And even as he was striking out a lot last year, he finished the season with an above average 114 OPS+, so he was still helping put runs on the board.
And though Tellez's current replacement, utility man Owen Miller, is helping contribute to the Crew's offense, starting DH Jesse Winker has been struggling hard in that regard to the point where he's at risk of not surviving on the roster past the trade deadline. And with backup options lacking, there's no better opening for Hiura on the roster than right now.
The Brewers may end up exploring the trade market to upgrade at first base and DH as we get closer to the 2023 trade deadline. But until then, it couldn't hurt to give another shot to an old friend and finally add Hiura back to the Milwaukee roster again.